Monday, January 30, 2012

Dan Deacon, January 28 Concert; Still Blissed Out

So I managed to get out of the house on Saturday night to see one of the most singular artists out there right now, and one of my favorites: Dan Deacon.

There's music that's good to get people dancing at parties -- I always thought The Chemical Brothers' were good for that. And there's bliss-out music -- sometimes that's the same stuff.

And there's music that's musically dull, but gets asses shaking, and because people feel good when their asses shake, it may lead to bliss-out-like states (though it's more thanks to the atmosphere than to the music itself). I always thought Black Eyed Peas' Let's Get Retarded was a good example of that. And there's simply "Jump up and down" music. All of these play well at dance parties.

But if, instead of humans gathering for a dance party, the musical instruments grew hands and feet, and gathered somewhere to have a party, and maybe got high first... Dan Deacon is how I imagine that party would sound.


Dan Deacon did a show last Saturday night, and I went, and boy I'm glad I did. I like writing about bliss-outs, and I don't know why, but dance and house music are some of the most bliss-out prone styles out there, when you share it with a room of two or five-hundred people. A few of the tallest joys I've experienced in shared moments (the romance between me and wifeoseyo aside) have been dancing to techno-ish music.
And Dan Deacon is a genius in that realm. He takes loops and electronic squeals and shapes them into journeys that get more fun, the louder you play them. And then suddenly the electronic squeals are singing words: my buddy Yujin (from Yujin is Huge) joined me for the show, and as I struggled to describe Dan Deacon, he said, "So it's like Fantasia had a dance party"... if memory serves. I was several beers deep by then. The first three times I listened to Dan Deacon's albums, I didn't get them. Before deleting them off my hard drive, on a whim, I cranked the volume... and I got it. Now I love it, but I have to warn you not to listen to Dan Deacon while driving: you'll speed.

But to avoid making his show just about him and the musics he can make, Dan Deacon spoke to the crowd, and worked a lot to get the crowd as involved in the music as he could. He regularly cleared a circle in the dance floor, and asked the audience to do funny games or activities that would get everyone doing the same thing.

Some were silly, some were awesome, but all of them increased the feeling of connection with the music, with the artist, and with the rest of the crowd. This was his goal, I'm sure, and it took the concert to a whole other level:
(picture from the opening act)

I've been to an Arcade Fire concert where they left the stadium through the crowd in Vancouver, and that was awesome, but this was something else, and the intimacy of sharing a bliss-out was an experience I hadn't had.

He asked the entire crowd to follow this girl in the beige jacket, who'd won the right to lead the dance in a contest on his website.

During the last song of the show -- the encore -- you can see how he and the audience are just as in tune with the music, and each other.

The last song -- a new track called "USA" ended (not seen here: sometimes I put my camera away and just enjoy stuff) with a progression of warm chords that brought the high of the night down into a mellow sharing, everyone around Dan Deacon moving together and bobbing their heads in something I can only call communion. Joy can be shared, bliss and art can be experienced together (with each other, and together with other people), in a way that an isolated dude with an MP3 player on the bus will never understand, until someone gives him a hi-five and pulls him into a tornado of dancing people.

And that's why you should go to a Dan Deacon show... and go for it. Dont' stand by the wall and watch. Jump in. Two days later, I'm still exhilarated.

This picture sums up dance parties in a couple of ways. I like it.

After the show, I thanked him for coming to Seoul, and for his music. He was a cool guy, because he wasn't trying to be cool: he was the guy who lives down the hall in your dorm, except really, really, really good at making music that makes people completely happy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Weekly Round-up: Links from the Radio Show, and Something Funny

Every Thursday, at 8:30AM, I present a short piece called "Blog Buzz" on TBS English radio 101.3's morning show. In it, I discuss the stories that have been generating buzz, or just catching my interest as something unique, interesting, or worthwhile, on the Korea blogs, during the last (approximate) week.

Here are some of the things I shared this week:

My Two Favorite accounts of Seollal this year were Xweing, a Chinese Malaysian who lives in Busan, reflects on the differences between Lunar new year in Malaysia, and in Korea -- because I'm from a culture that doesn't celebrate Lunar New Year, Korean New Year is basically a family thing, where in Malaysia, there are street parties, decorations and fireworks -- it's a much more public event.

There's a wistfulness here, kind of like the writings Western expats have when they write about Korean Christmas, that you don't get from Western writers talking about Korean New Year, and it's very interesting. Western expats write about Korean Lunar New Year with more curiosity, because it's new to us, so Xweing's perspective is refreshing.

Ask A Korean continued his series on Suicide in Korea with part four: worth reading, and a reminder that saying "Korea has a suicide culture" and leaving it at that is an intellectually lazy cop-out: observing a cultural phenomenon insists we ask, "How did the culture get this way?" --there's still work to be done. Especially in Korea's case, where in the early '80s, Korea's suicide rate was one of the world's lowest.

What should you do this weekend?

If I had to choose only one thing Chris in South Korea has ever made, to be linked, spread, and shared, this would be it. The entertaining and helpful flowchart "What to do this weekend?" (a polished final version of one he made a little while ago) asks a bunch of simple questions that guide you towards a host of sights and activities to try or see all around Korea. Good weather? Bad weather? Flush with cash? Broke? Wanna live it up? Wanna take it easy? Tired of palaces and temples? There's something for you. It's Seoul-centric -- Going to Daegu or Busan are options on the "Get out of town" side, but it's interesting, and if you try to do every single activity on the list, you'll have a frantic year (or two) in Korea, but come away having had a pretty darn good experience of the country.

Last One:
Finally, we didn't have time to cover it on air, last week or this, but I'd like to send you to check out Charles Montgomery's great piece on the problems (he's had) with Korean self-study. It's an entertaining account of the circular "new book/tail off/forget what I've learned" cycle. The article ends with a good argument for getting into formal classes.

Interestingly, it's hosted as a guest post on the blog of Hanguk Drama, whose author is a self-taught Korean speaker, and has managed to find a method or motivation Mr. Monty didn't. Go read it here.

A couple more:
These weren't on the radio, of course, but Stephen Colbert's interview of "Where The Wild Things Are" author Maurice Sendak is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Part 1:

Part 2:

And... I've been on a Tom Waits kick lately. He's probably my favorite singer... and that's some rare air up there... and he's made about ten albums I'll listen to without even thinking about hitting the "Skip" button... and that's hard to do. Offhand, I can only think of two or three other artists who have made more than two albums during which I'd never hit "Skip"

Maybe some day I'll blog a list of albums I listen to without ever hitting "Skip," but not today.

Today, here's a list of Tom Waits' albums, ranked from worst to best, and I'd recommend any of the top ten to you, if you love music that takes you on a journey, and a well-written song.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baby News!

Not mine, though. Go to Ms. Lee To Be's blog and congratulate her on the arrival of her little one.

While you're there, browse her archives for some very insightful posts on the Korean pediatric hospital/doctor/care system.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Deal with 떡 (Ddeok): Korea's Weird Rice Cake

This stuff.

(Image source)

There's a ddeok shop not too far from where I live, that sells the best ddeok I've ever eaten. And I've eaten my share: a former home of mine was near Nakwon Sangga, also known as that huge building that sells tons of musical instruments (and features a movie theater best known for [perhaps formerly] being a gay hook-up spot), and at one end of the pass where the road goes under that building, there are two shops, across the street from each other, that sell really good ddeok.

What is ddeok? If you live in Korea, and interact with Koreans, you've probably had this experience: a Korean says "Hey there (your name): I'd like to give you a traditional Korean snack. It's really delicious!" The degree of enthusiasm might vary, but a whole lot of Koreans like ddeok, some enough to make overstated claims about its deliciousness. Then they give you a round thing that's perhaps the size of a mini-muffin, half a piece of pound cake, or a large piece of candy or toffee. You put it in your mouth... and it's this weird, heavy, dense, C-H-EEEEE-W-Y rice-tasting thing that's mildly sweet at best, and perhaps covered in powders that make it the experience of eating it similar to putting a spoonful of flour in your mouth with a hunk of unflavored, unsweetened toffee (that doesn't get softer in your mouth), or gummy peanut butter (that doesn't taste like peanuts). To be polite, because of the very expectant look on your Korean friend's face, you say "oh yeah. It's good." But your mind is racing, going "can I spit this out without being noticed?" and "What the HELL is this?"

You decline a second piece, and avoid it in the future.

There are three main ways people encounter ddeok: in soup (ddeok guk - a traditional new year's meal), in spicy sauce (ddeokbokki, a very popular street food), and as a snack, in little slabs or balls.

If we must assign everything in Korea a western/international parallel, then ddeok is Korea's Christmas Cake: heavy, popular holiday gift, really filling, acquired taste (to say the least), many varieties, REALLY well-loved by those who like it, but those who don't like it really, really don't get what the fuss is about... and the subject of a disproportionate number of situations where somebody has to pretend they like a holiday gift more than they actually do.

Image source

I won't say ddeok is my favorite Korean food, but if you put it in front of me, I'll try it. As with most foods, I don't usually like foods per se -- I like good food. Crappy food is crappy, and a crappy version of my "favorite" food is still crappy, while good food is good, and a good version of a food I usually don't like, is still good. I've had maeuntang (usually a dish I REALLY dislike) that I loved this year. And I've had spaghetti (which is my favorite dish, cooked properly) that I hated.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm always startled by how strong, and negative, the response is when I ask, offer, or discuss ddeok with an expat -- it's not the most accessible of Korean foods, I know, but the reaction, it seems to me, is out of proportion... especially considering that many people I know who hate ddeok as a snack, still happily eat ddeokbokki (ddeok in spicy sauce). In this post, I'm talking about the snacks, which are packable, so they're often encountered on picnics and field trips.

As always, after thinking about this a little too much, I've cooked up a personal hypothesis as to why ddeok gets such a negative response.

Problem 1: As with Kimchi, Korean Koreans have grown up around other Ko-Ko's, so they don't have outside reference points who haven't grown up eating the same foods, to provide an outside view and inform them, "Hey there. Chapchae's a very accessible food for people who don't know anything about Korean food. So is bulgogi. You might want to hold off on juk (bland rice porridge) and nurungji (bland scorched rice) soup and not build people's expectations for soju or kimchi too high, because at best they're acquired tastes, and don't taste as good to people who didn't drink their way through university/grow up with them." The same echo chamber/cultural pride double-whammy that leads (the kind of) Koreans (who offer to show new FOB expats around) to believe every foreigner in Korea wants nothing more than to see palaces palaces palaces (when I got here, the first three Koreans who wanted to show me around Seoul all, independently brought me to Gyeongbokgung) contributes to a lack of self-awareness about which foods non-Koreans will take to more easily, and which require some briefing on what to expect.

As Joe Zenkimchi has been telling us, in his sexy way, for years now, many Koreans simply have no idea which Korean foods are appealing to non-Koreans. To the detriment of Korean food promotions, and the successful introduction of new arrivals to Korean foods. I've seen this some people around me as well: yes, dwenjang is a representative Korean food... it's also really strong-smelling and tasting, and takes a few tries to get used to. It's a great pick for someone inquisitive who's been here three months, but not for someone who only has a week here.

Problem 2: there's really no snack similar to ddeok in the west. Even the rice most westerners eat isn't the sticky variety they like in Korea. Most chewy snacks in the west are very sweet (think salt-water toffee, skittles or the various brands of fruit-flavored chewy snacks). Most bland-tasting snacks are salted and/or quite crunchy (think corn chips, shortbread cookies, or plain popcorn), and often/usually taken with flavorings or garnishes (butter, salsa, dips). Foods that are somewhat similar to familiar foods are easier for people to like, because we can categorize it more easily - that's why genre movies and musicians are easier to promote than genre-defying films and musicians. Which radio station do you put Florence and the Machine onto? Rock? Pop? Chamber? Folk? Twee-folk? Aw screw it. Because there's no readily available snack category I could recognize and assign ddeok to, I don't know how to respond to it.

Problem 3: It's often one of the first Korean snacks a Korean sticks under the nose of new expats... or at least introduce far too early in the Korea experience. Ddeok is good in its own way, especially when it's fresh (it's like croissants that way: don't even bother eating a croissant that's more than 24 hours old. Ditto for a good ddeok. The best time to eat it is when it's fresh out of the steamer.) But it's a very Korean type of snack, and as such, people new to the cuisine would be better prepared to enjoy it for what it is, and compare it to other reference points within Korean cuisine (in which context it makes more sense), if they already have a solid grounding in the variety of tastes and textures that are common to Korean meals and snacks.

Problem 4: The ddeok expats are given is often not the best example of ddeok. I've had some good ddeok, and I've had some bad ddeok, and the stuff wrapped in plastic the you can pick up as an afterthought next to the cash register at the Ministop on your way to meet that new Canadian teacher who you're going to show around Gyeongbok palace? Not the best. That's like talking up Canada's beer culture (microbrew. mmm) and then introducing it with a can of warm Molson Canadian (Canada's Hite).

I think more expats in Korea would like ddeok if they were given good ddeok, and were prepared for it, both by having had a variety of Korean foods and snacks beforehand, and with a little warning about what's to come, and being alerted that many find it an acquired taste. I'm kind of a fan now... if it's good, but it took me a while to get there.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wikipedia is going dark to protest SOPA. So Did I.

Why am I against SOPA?

A South Korean parallel: South Korea has laws protecting the nation from North Korean spies, that were written in the Cold War (that is: harsh and a little reactionary, because that was the political climate at the time). Problem is, now that South Korea’s a democracy, those laws still haven’t been updated to account for the fact South Koreans have way more freedoms now than they did in the ‘70s, when thousands of journalists and critics of the government were arrested and/or had their reputations or careers ruined.

And the reason it makes me nervous to come across laws that cast such a wide net is this:

First: It’s impossible to monitor ALL online activity that might be North Korea friendly/threatening to the stability of the South Korean government. In the same way, it's impossible to block ALL content that might be pirated.

Next: If we can’t monitor ALL activity, we must ask by what principle people decide who to monitor, and who to ignore: when to exercise the law and bring someone in for interrogation, and when to let it slide. When to move to shut down or block their website, and when to let it slide.

But: All too often, the way decisions are made on who to scrutinize, aren’t so much on who’s actually most North Korea friendly, but who’s pissed off the government currently in power the most -- simply because they're the ones who got the government's attention 

So: The law amounts to free license for people with power to hound those who piss them off, by pulling on a pretty-much unrelated hook that almost EVERYBODY has in their cheek, which will, regardless that it’s not really connected to the offense they committed, still put them in a really bad position. If we make farting illegal, then I have a blank slate to accuse anyone I dislike of farting and thus get them out of my hair on a 

There’s just too much danger of selective application of this law to become a lever that the moneyed businesses in power use to bully the little guy, and control what the little guy sees and reads. When this guy's podcast got too popular, there was a convenient way available to shut him up without having to look at the legality of prosecuting him over his podcast. And they did it.

3. The people trying to protect copyright online are fighting a losing battle, and whether this law gets passed or not, will find themselves needing to find a new revenue stream anyway. Even the SOPA will only delay the inevitable, which is this: record companies become irrelevant, because technology's reached a point where anybody can cut an album with some instruments and a computer, and digitally distribute it and become famous in their musical genre, if they're good. And it's good for music that it's so easy to make music.

Here are the two best posts I've found explaining SOPA. Go read them. If you're an American, write your local congressperson. Do it.

The video at the beginning of this post is a great explanation of why EVERYBODY (not just Americans) should care about this:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Korea Heaven for Cyclists? The Country, Maybe; Seoul, Hell No

This big sign in a subway station kind of bothers me. It's about bike trails... clearly out of the city. It looks pretty; I'd like to bike there. I've had some great experiences biking around towns and countrysides outside of Seoul.

See, it's all well and good for Korea to be working on increasing and improving biking trails. I love that, actually, and as soon as I'm out of Seoul, renting a bike to explore the area I've landed, is one of my favorite things to do with Wifeoseyo.

But there's a problem with calling Korea (and especially Seoul) a biking mecca (and I'm not saying anybody has: this is a bit of a straw man, but I have a point to make, so bear with me here.)


Honestly, I'm not the guy to talk about bike trekking across the entire nation: I've never tried it, though I'm sure a country that's 70% mountainous would present challenges. Small towns often have some nice places to bike near their tourist spots, and many I've visited have bike rentals available: AWESOME.

And Seoul is an AWESOME place for recreational biking. Awesome awesome awesome. The Han River Park, the streams that go all the way up to Uijeongbu and down to Bundang, Cheonggyecheon and its off-shoot up to Hansung University station, the Olympic Park and Seoul Forest, the area around World Cup Stadium, and I'm sure there's a bunch I'm missing there: Seoul is a great place for recreational biking.


In fact, all the pictures on this post except one or two were taken on the same amazing (exhausting) day in October.

But here's the problem with advertising Seoul as a biker's haven:

It just ain't. Unless you're doing it for your health. If you're biking to work? You're taking your life into your hands.

Along Hongje Stream.

There are almost no biking lanes, almost anywhere in the city. Those right hand lanes where people usually bike? You're in danger of getting clipped by a taxi, or having the tar scared out of you by a bus, at any time. Sidewalks? Korean people's habit (and this is by no means exclusively Korean: every culture has people who lack spacial awareness or consideration) of walking three abreast, shoulder-to-shoulder, or with smartphones and headphones, means that you're gonna need a hell of a bell, and even then, the occasional dumbarse will just stare at you and not figure out that you're ringing the bell because they're the one in the way. So...  road biking is scary and dangerous, and sidewalk biking is barely faster than walking at times.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. Dumbass pedestrian.

Chicken or the egg: are Koreans terrible at sharing the sidewalk with bikes because nobody bikes on sidewalks here, or does nobody bike on sidewalks here because Koreans are terrible at sharing the sidewalk with bikes?

Near Hansung University.

Here's another one: do very few Koreans under 60 use bikes to get around because Korean drivers are terrible at sharing the road with them, or are Koreans terrible at sharing the road with bikers because so few people under sixty use bikes to get around?

Why is this a problem? Utter. Bike lane. Fail. This is the bike lane in front of Gyeongbok Palace.

See how the only thing separating the bike lane from the driving lane is a white painted line? Well buddy, cars can drive over paint very easily. So can motorbikes, buses (I've seen it repeatedly happen), and taxis seem to enjoy driving over white paint lines.

And that's where there's a bike lane at all. If I worked in the downtown core, I'd be terrified to bike there. I'd wear two helmets, and a padded suit that looked like this:

The really funny thing about the Gwanghwamun bike lane fail is that right down in Mangwon, they've figured out how to do it right:
Those metal guards tell drivers, "Bikes only... or we'll wreck your car up"... and I bet it works!

Along the Hongje Stream, on the way towards World Cup Stadium, near the Hilton Hotel.

And... sorry to pull this into the discussion, but it's true...

Japan completely, totally, absolutely obliterates Korea, in terms of making the roads bike friendly.

Look what I randomly stumbled across in Kyoto when I was there with Wifeoseyo: a bike parking garage! It was beautiful. I saw people riding bikes in business attire there. I saw stylish people riding bikes there. I loved it.
Look how many bikes it can store, in how much smaller a space than a car parking lot! You know how everybody complains that there's no parking in downtown Seoul? Well...

My own theories as to why Seoul is ass for commuter cyclists?
1. Seoul is too hilly.
2. Bikes are for poor people. Korea is not far enough removed from its impoverished past to have lived down this stigma and notice how much cheaper, and how much more space efficient bikes are than penises status symbols cars.
3. Bikes are for kids. It's undignified to ride a kid's toy to work. And heaven forbid I sweat on the way to or home from work!

So nobody takes bikes to work... so nobody agitates to make Seoul more bike friendly outside of park space... the fact Seoul has lots of recreational biking options means that city planners can point at them and ignore the fact Seoul is terrifying to traverse, and horribly set up for bike commuters, and Seoul drivers are dreadfully unable to share the road with bikers, because they never have to.

Next time you're stuck in a Seoul traffic jam, though, I want you to think of this picture.
Street Space For 60 People: Car, Bus, Bicycle

Will it always be this way? Probably not. Seoulites will figure it out. Eventually. The amount of recreational biking in Seoul has increased a lot lately, so that might be a good sign for the future of bike lanes and heedful drivers. Maybe when somebody brings more expensive bike brands into the country, so that people can use their bike brand like a North Face coat, and still compete for prestige while cycling, we'll see a change. Anyway, the pretend bike lane in front of Gyeongbok Palace annoys me, and I had to get that off my chest.

Rant over.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kids React to Kpop Hatefest!

Update: Babyseyo came home from the hospital on Tuesday...
and is in fine form again.

But Kpop hate?

I first spotted this at Foreign/er Joy... since January 8, this video's grabbed around 800 000 Youtube hits, spawned a huge number of angry, defensive, or simply butthurt responses from Kpop fans, and given us a little more grist for the discussion of whether Kpop would ever make it, "big time" (whatever that means) in America.

As I've spent a lot of time talking about Kpop lately, I feel duty-bound to post this, and host a discussion about it.

My own thoughts:
1. the kid in the striped shirt has clearly had somebody (maybe his dad, maybe an older cousin) training him to have contempt for modern pop in general - not just K-pop. And likes attention and drama.
2. The girl who says, if the group is all arranged and planned by a manager... "if I even liked one of them, I would pretty much be liking the person that trained them" is bang on, as is the kid who says, "So they basically make them to be their puppets...I hope they get paid well."

So... watch the video. It's an interesting view of the differences in the way American kids that age are trained to appreciate art and creativity, and what young Koreans are trained to appreciate and admire... sprinkled with a little hate here and there.

In response to that hate, the K-pop shock troops have responded with hate of their own. Responses have been bitter and defensive in large part....
Check here and here and here and here (for a longer response)... and over 3000(!) comments on AllKpop.

Best post I've seen on it so far (linked in the comments) is this thoughtful talk about orientalism, exoticism, and who is asking these kids questions/editing the video, at "Adventures in the 4077th"  It also uses the word "Koreaboos" which is a word I would love to see, read and hear more often.

One thing I'll say for sure about these fine brothers (makers of the video): my hat's off to them. Kpop fans were certainly ripe to be trolled, and they're clearly reaping the benefits in hits and notoriety, in the proud tradition of Stephen Colbert.

What say you, readers?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My life these days... in photos

So here's why I no longer wear my good clothes around the house...

(take note, Black Out Korea: baby vomit's cuter and funnier than adult vomit)

If you parse this photo carefully, you can see most of the story of my year:
1. My brand new glasses! Getting my health check for a new job, I was surprised at how much better my right eye could see than my left, so l went in for an eye check and it turns out my left eye is doubled up with both myopia and astigmatism. This is a fairly recent development: I blame my ipod touch.
Photo on 2012-12-27 at 10.35
2. Retainer. My braces are off, but I still have to wear that retainer. Between getting glasses and needing a retainer, you'd expect my life's biggest stress to be how close to the "cool" table I get to sit in the middle school cafeteria... but
3. the mobile behind my shoulder, and the traces of baby barf on the collar of my shirt (if you look carefully) are signs that I have other things to worry about than all but the most promiscuous (or uneducated about prophylactics) of middle-school kids.

I think this was in the Euljiro underground shopping center. Cindelela indeed.

If you look carefully in my basket of coffee paraphernalia, you'll notice evidence that an ajumma now lives with us (Wifeoseyo's mom is here helping with the baby)... hand-drip stuff, beans, and...

le sigh.

A few more:
Took a hike to Guknyeongsa with a few expat buddies... it was great, and I took these pictures. (Here's what to look for on your map/mountain guide -- it's along the Bukhan Mountain ridgeline)

go down this lane:

And you'll get to this big buddha statue, which overlooks the valley across from the peak of Bukhansan. It's a very nice hike if you know how to find it. The mirrored panes enclose shelves holding thousands of little buddha statues.

That buddha is HUGE!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sick Babyseyo

Warning: the final picture in this post contains chest hair.

Babyseyo and Roboseyo.
You may notice the newest addition to my family: Spectcloseyo.
Yes. I have joined the ranks of the bespectacled, glasses-wearing four-eyes. And to all of my friends on whose glasses I at some point put a fingerprint as a prank: I'm sorry. I'm a jerk.

So Babyseyo got a cough last week. On Wednesday, we brought him to the pediatric clinic near our home; they gave him a two-days' worth prescription, and said, "If this doesn't set him right, bring him to a real hospital."

On Friday, he was worse than Wednesday, if anything, his crying had acquired a ragged buzz-saw edge to it that he didn't usually have, and he wasn't smiling: just looking around with big, "You can help me with this, right?" eyes.

So... here's peaceful babyseyo (he folds his arms like a buddha when he's really at peace)
OK ok. Or a mad villain concocting evil schemes (if the light is right)

They looked at him and said "We'd like to check him in, please." And he looked like this.


Call Rudolph: the baby hospital's horning in on his turf. The gadget that measures his blood oxygen saturation and pulse has made his toe glow. Wifeoseyo did not find my shiny toe jokes funny... and I'm pretty shiny toes don't run in her side of the family, so I'll have to ask my dad about my side.

But readers...
I don't know how to describe what it is to see your own baby like that. It'd be like describing sex to a virgin, or red to a blind person - meaningless platitudes, or words that seem to fall far below the act... but every parent will nod their head and know. It's the final step in bonding with your kid, I think: seeing your little one sick takes all the deep roots of love that have been building, and suddenly reveals them to you, like a flash of lightning outlining the tree in your yard, all at once, in an instant, in every staggering detail.

He's been in the hospital since Friday, as my twitter and facebook people will know. He's better: eating more and smiling again, but it was only today that the doctors finally told us just how bad he was doing on Friday, because they didn't want to upset us then. Not that you had to tell us he was in a bad way.

We're getting good care at the hospital, but anyway... that's baby's first sick. So if you've been waiting for me to answer an e-mail or comment at Roboseyo, please bear with me. And if you're the praying type, say a short one for Babyseyo.

'cause I love this kid.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Shakespeare vs. Sir Francis Bacon, and why @Holterbarbour is a Twitter Genius

@HolterBarbour and I have been trading barbs, wisecracks and puns for a while now on twitter: he's one of my favorite twitterheads/tweeps/whatever they're called these days.

Recently, he's been asking some of his twitter pals for topics, and writing limericks about them. And they're hilarious. I asked him for a topic, and gave him "having snow fights with dirty snow in the city."

He wrote this:
Before you start tossing 'round snow,
The levels of that which you throw
should at least be commensurate
to the layer of expectorate
horked up by old men on the go

And gave me a hella hard topic (especially for an old humanities major): "The relationship between capacitance and capacitive resistance as represented in a sine curve"

I sent him this:
In capacitors of parallel plates
as we search for resistance in rates, 
capacitive reactance
goes up with more distance 
while capacitance drops with more space

And figured I'd earned the right to toss him a tough topic, too. He got this: "Prove that Sir Francis Bacon was not the author of Shakespeare's oeuvre in a limerick". Here's what he sent me:

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Hyuna the Stripper and Ajosshi Fans

Eat Your Kimchi ripped Hyuna's video, Troublemaker Troublemaker, to pieces, for Hyuna's one-dimensional sexiness.

Tumblrite Briana, at Noonaneomuhomo, took issue with Simon and Martina's review.
Simon and Martina responded with an explanation of what they were trying to say about Hyuna.

I'm No Picasso added a response to it, with an interesting post about the way women in Kpop videos these days are taking on the Male Gaze directly - with Hyuna as a prime example of that - rather than pretending it isn't there.

It's been an interesting conversation, but I'd like to tie it in with one other thing:

James on The Grand Narrative has been writing about "Ajosshi Fandom" or "Uncle Fans." Read up here.

Basically, here's the rundown:
K-pop girl bands started targeting males in their 30s and 40s. All well and good... those guys have money to burn! The problem is, especially when the performers in these girl groups are underage, it gets kind of uncomfortable for older men to be leering at videos of underage girls in short skirts shaking their asses, now, doesn't it?

To get around this, the discourse of the "ajosshi fan" was invented. Ajosshi fans, or uncle fans, claim their feeling toward the girls' is like a friendly uncle’s feelings toward his niece - a little paternal, a little protective, but most of all, innocent and de-sexualized. This is a convenient justification, because by claiming to be an “uncle fan” a guy can pretend he hasn’t noticed that these band members are chosen and the videos are designed for sex appeal. By throwing up his hands and shouting "Uncle" he gets to ogle underage girls, but the "Uncle fan" explanation lets him off the hook without feeling like a creep. Kind of like the creepy uncle who tries to look down his niece's shirt while going on about how she's growing up. I'm sure my female readers could comment on how NOT benign such affection is... even though sometimes it probably is meant in all innocence.

To be fair: not every “uncle fan” is a creep, but if we acknowledge that sexual interest IS part of the K-pop girl group package, we can start discussing things like guidelines for the appropriate use of underage girls in k-pop groups. And we can recognize that the "uncle fan" explanation may be true for some men who claim to have "paternal feelings"... but the number of men who truly have only "uncle-ish" feelings is probably fewer than the number of men who claim that's why they're avid followers of K-pop girl groups.

And let's just call bullshit on that anyway... because if I saw any of my nieces dressed in the kinds of uniforms k-pop girls wear, dancing that way, and saw thousands of men my age staring at the videos, I wouldn't be proud and paternal. I wouldn't want to give her a squeeze around the shoulders, a chuck on the chin, and say "nice job, niece." I'd be shocked and upset and want to stand in front of the TV to block it, not to watch it again, if it were my niece. If we could ask every "Uncle fan" who watches these videos, "How'd you feel if it was your daughter up there, dressed like that," I think we'd find the "Uncle fan" fiction doesn't hold water. (Hell, I bet we could just ask them how many of the words to the songs they know to find out which ones don't give a damn about the girls, and just like looking.)

If we aren’t honest enough to admit that K-pop is selling sex, then I think it’s dishonest to act like there’s nothing sexual about dressing a young girl up in the uniforms they wear in K-pop videos.

Skirts that show panties - this costume led to... either the costume or the song, or the video being banned. Can't be bothered to check. Girls' day: "Twinkle Twinkle" and buddy, if you're watching this video for the music... you're lying. (discussed here and here)

But whether Hyuna is successful at projecting the kind of sexuality she wants to project or not (which is the point of Eat Your Kimchi's beef), here's what videos like hers do:

When the girls are, as INP says, looking directly at the camera, acting like adults instead of little girls, they're confronting the male gaze that ogles them in their videos. If the girls are using aegyo, I'm an uncle watching a video that's telling a cute story about girls acting like children and being cute... that happens to be sexy (oh, but that's not why I'm watching it: I'm watching it because I like those cute childish faces and that funny fairy tale storyline that involves licking oversized prop lollipops bwahaha).

Videos like this give me that "out"

But with Hyuna, I'm watching a sexy video that's a sexy video because it's a sexy video that happens to be a sexy video, and there's no pretending about it. I'm not attracted to the childish costumes, and I can't pretend that's why I watch, because there AREN'T childish costumes and baby-faces. They pull the rug on the "Uncle fans" and say, "You're going to watch the video because it's sexy, and we're not giving you any short-cut or justification. Because we're f$&#ing sexy, and that's that."

Brown Eyed Girls is making videos like this. (mentioned by Eat Your Kimchi in their Troublemaker review)

You can't pretend that's anything other than a sexy video.

So now, let's actually talk about sexiness in Kpop videos, instead of inventing fictions, justifications, and fishy discourses that excuse ourselves from having to admit what the video, and these kpop bands' sculpted images, are really about.

Talking about it is good.

2011 Look Back: Music and Favorites

Two more things I like to talk about at year-ends: Music and Blawrgs.

I haven't seen enough movies in the cinema to really talk about 2011's films, and I don't pay enough attention to the movies playing when they're on my computer, to really talk about them.

But the best thing I watched this year was "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the Nickelodeon TV series. Don't even mention the movie, which compares to the TV series kind of like if you were expecting a Nintendo Wii for Christmas, and instead got a box of turkey poo: Aang is, far and away the most likeable protagonist I've seen in an animated series: he's human, he's funny, he's a hero, he learns, but he's also totally a kid - fun-loving and mischievous, even when he has to save the world. His journey is authentic and the choices he faces are smart, challenging, and, when you see what he chooses, satisfying. So go watch it.

I briefly mentioned what I love about December -- year-end lists -- so I thought I'd throw down a few of my favorite bands and albums from the year, and ended off with the blogs that have newly come onto my radar this year.

My favorite music - not all of it's from 2011, but I found it in 2011.

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues - everybody loves these guys.

Vampire Weekend - Contra - if Phoenix listened to more of Paul Simon's "Graceland" they'd make this album.

Aphex Twin: Hangable Light Bulb - Electronica helped me study for grad school, and this was the most interesting of what I found this spring.

Tom Waits: Bad as Me - any time Tom Waits has a new album, I'm in. This is a solid album, though like Beck's recent album, "Modern Guilt" which, for the first (or at worst second) was a Beck album that sounded like a beck album (that is, which revisited places Beck had been before rather than looking somewhere new), this is a Tom Waits album that sounds like a Tom Waits album, rather than an album of Tom Waits going somewhere new. That said, this is a lean, taut Tom Waits album that demonstrates the kind of curt brevity required by the MP3 downloading "skip" generation.

Bon Iver: Bon Iver - I liked "Skinny love" on his last album. I like this one from top to bottom.

EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints - this would have been my favorite album ever for a while if I'd discovered it when I was 24. As it is, it's very nice, and EMA manages to move across a surprising range of sounds, all holding onto her center.

The Field: Looping State of Mind - surprisingly stirring for electronic music.

The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics - an older one, but I finally started to "get" older Flaming Lips this year. And the first two tracks are something else.

Fucked Up: David Comes to Life - a very rude, random e-mail informed me that Hardcore is totally different than death metal, last time I wrote about Fucked Up. And if all fans of hardcore and/or death metal are as rude as dear Stan (appropriate choice of name) I'm glad I have no plans to get into the genre as a genre. Then again... I know that I'd certainly write an e-mail deriding a stranger, if a blogger I read ever confused instrumental minimalist post-rock twee-folk with freestyle acoustic shoegaze tone-poetry. But who ever gets instrumental minimalist post-rock twee-folk confused with freestyle acoustic shoegaze tone-poetry? Good thing they don't!  However, whatever "David Comes To Life" is, it's awesome. 20 minutes too long, though. I prefer things in a tight package, over things that sprawl.

Leonard Cohen: Live in London - give it some time. It'll grow on you. Leonard Cohen's about 130 years old by now, and still delivers a concert that is graceful, lovely, and touched with moments of real feeling, both in the songs, and between him and his audience.

Suckers: Wild Smile - if Sunset Rubdown listened to more David Bowie, this is what would happen.

The Tallest Man on Earth - Sometimes The Blues is Just a Passing Bird - the guy's voice is annoying and nasal... but the songs just work.

TuneYards - Whokill - so out of the blue. So, so, so good, I have no idea what to do with it, because I can't play any other music before or after I play this.

The Weeknd - Echoes of Silence - New singer, new addition to the list, I'm still breaking in this one, but I like how The Weeknd delivers his music so far. A LOT.

Micah P Hinson - ...And the Pioneer Saboteurs - more mediative and atmospheric than his earlier stuff (I adore his first album) - but it suits his voice and his feel.

Hope you like some of that. If you don't... I never promised you would.


Here are the blogs that caught my attention this year:
Burndog is fun.
Korean Kontext is a podcast that's scored some great guests, but not much buzz
The Dokdo Times picks up the torch as Dokdo Is Ours hangs up its pen.
Stupid Ugly Foreigner is, in my opinion, neither stupid nor ugly.
Ajumma's Journal - well-sourced, at its best when talking about how to enjoy nature in Korea
The Diplomat - it covers all of asia, but it's a fantastic source.
Alien's Day Out - bloggy, but wins points for discussing being a vegetarian in Seoul
If I Had A Minute To Spare, who hates top 10 lists.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011: Another Year of Blogoseyo

Happy New Year, folks. It's time to look back a little at 2011, for the year it was.

But first: North Korea wishes you a Happy New Year: (seriously: video uploaded January 1) From twitter account @PourMeCoffee

Anybody willing to post the lyrics in the comments?
Do you know any other countries that still use images of factories to project the image of a powerful, wealthy nation?

Back to the retrospective:

(aliens day out also has a 2011 best-of post)

It was an awesome year personally -

Highlights included a trip to the south sea, around Yeosu, with my wife and parents in-law in the spring, a one-year anniversary party in Niagara Falls, to celebrate our wedding with my Korean and Canadian families together, and, you know, baby. Who's laughing now. If you make motorboat sounds.

Among other things going on, in November I started going on air at TBS radio in the morning, and on Friday I did a year-end look back at 2011 in blogs. It's only from where I stand, but here are the blog topics and trends that caught my attention:

Cribbed from my notes for the TBS Radio segment (which can be found here - the 11/12/30 episode), though live radio never goes exactly according to script then, and thanks to the facebook ant twitter friends who reminded me of some of these stories:

Biggest Blog Stories in 2011
Not necessarily the biggest news stories, because I'm sure news websites are covering that... here are the blog stories that have caught my attention, and the attention of the other bloggers I've been reading:

Kim Jong Il's Death
The no-brainer. Of course, how this plays out will continue to be discussed over the course of 2012.

Itaewon FreedomThis video, featuring JYP, the creative force behind The Wondergirls and Rain, probably made the biggest K-blog splash of any musical video since "Kickin' It In GeumCheon"

(runner-up Korea-themed Youtube song: P00lman's "The Subway Song"
darn impressive for a one-person show.

Blackout Korea

The discovery of the "Blackout Korea" blog by Korean Netizens, followed by the opening of a "anti-Blackout" blog and enough angry comments at Blackout Korea to prompt the writer to take it offline, led to some interesting discussions. Interestingly: Blackout Korea is back online. With some rules for how things'll be run 'round here.

I wrote about Blackout Korea here, here. On Bloggers getting bullied into silence:

A post I liked about the issue of anonymity and blogs catching static, was written by The Bobster, about "Jake" the writer of Expat Hell. A blog that's had its own trouble with defensive nationalists (who don't actually live in Korea)

Kpop invades the “other” blogs.
For a long time, Kpop blogs have been their own ecosystem that don't cross over into the "other" k-blogs much. This year, with shows liek "Superstar K" and "I am a Singer" I've been following, and interested, in Kpop more than ever before, and some very cool blogs I like have been responding to what they're reading on the K-pop blogs, with some neat discussions. Do these count as Kpop? Maybe not... but the expat bloggers I follow have been taking more interest in Korean music (other than to scoff at plagiarism scandals) this year.
“See these rocks”
You know what I'm talking about. This was also my most commented blog post of the year. That post has links to most of the other blogs who wrote about the topic.

Tee hee.

SMOE cutting budget
-Because a lot of bloggers are English teachers, English teaching topics always attract a lot of talk.

It's hard to tag "newcomers" in a blog discussion, because the year a blog gains attention is usually not the same year it started posting, so I'm using "newcomers" in a very loose fashion, as you'll see. The three new(er) sites that have probably added most to the discussions I follow are The Three Wise Monkeys, who have run pieces by the former British Ambassador to Korea, Martin Uden (who has a blog himself), top North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, and ran an expose of a crooked travel agent that led to an arrest. I also featured them as Korea Blog of the Month at 10 Magazine this month (January 2010). 

[A small parenthetical: Why Roboseyo Probably Shouldn't Write Angry:Many of my readers will remember that in the spring, I lashed out pretty angrily at 3WM over the series they wrote about ATEK (culminating in this one). I'll be honest: after that series, I was well prepared to thoroughly hate 3WM and everything they did. Hell, I wanted to... but what they did was turn out interesting and generally well-written pieces from a variety of voices that often don't get play in the English media about Korea, and I'd be foolish to deny that. I'm still not wild about the ATEK piece, especially since ATEK has been pretty much silent since then, and I haven't seen anything rise to prominence that (attempts to) perform similar services for English teachers. However, since that series, 3WM has done good work - its best work we've seen so far, in my opinion, so, good job on them.
And if adding a new, interesting voice to the English expat Korea media happened every time I ate my words, I'd do it more often... but this time, I was incorrect in my dismissal of that site, and I'm happy to say so.
(a previous instance when I wrote while angrily also led to an apology post this year.)]

CNNGo has been running travel-tip and hot-spot-type pieces that have sometimes led to good info, and have at other times caused frustrated backlashes from bloggers who thought their advice was off the mark. 

My other favorite newish blog is “I’m No Picasso,” who’s not completely new, but who continues to write interesting things as a public school teacher with a really thoughtful and wise approach to life in Korea, and cultural issues. 

2011 Blog Trends

2011 was, I think, marked by the rise of Korea multimedia. Youtube channels like Eat Your Kimchi, who blazed the trail... but also Steve the Qi ranger, Poolman, also known as Michael (whose subway video linked above went modestly viral in the Korean language internet), and a bunch of photography blogs, my favorite being DayvMattt [spelling corrected] and Hermit Hideaways, and the photo blog run by RJ Koehler - webmaster of The Marmot’s Hole, have come onto the radar this year.

I feel like I'm missing at least four or six important or awesome photography blogs about Korea, so if you know one, please please link it in the comments.

The SeoulPodcast was somewhat active, 10 Magazine started a podcast, and Korean Kontext - - has scored some really great guests, though it hasn't gotten much attention yet.

Rise of the tumblr blogs 

The number and variety of Tumblr blogs has really exploded in 2011 - Tumblr’s a kind of different format, that makes it really conversation-intensive but a little harder to follow if you’re not used to it, but there are tons of discussions there that are really interesting, along with pictures of Kpop stars.

It’s harder these days to point to a handful of blogs and say they’ve the “major” ones who totally dominate the discussions - which was possible in 2006 and probably in 2009. These days, not so much.

We’ve seen a diversification in the people blogging - it used to be mostly english teachers or people working in the English language media here - newspapers and magazines - and the types of blogs are becoming more varied. Newer blogs are giving me views into Korean corporate culture and other areas.  I hope to hear more from them.

2012 Forecast
I foresee more multimedia - there’s a gap in podcasts, with only a handful making much noise. I predict more will come along.

Even more diversity Domination of blogs by (male, Seoul-based) English teachers will come to an end. This year, I hope to see student, office worker, and other blogs catch more attention. My dream? Some interesting blogs from Korea residents who originate in non-first-world countries writing interesting blogs in English - I’d love to see blogs from people living here from India, the Philippines or Malaysia, for example.

This restrospective is by no means definitive... but here are some ways to look back at the year of Blogoseyo:

Roboseyo's most visited (new) blog posts of 2011 (this will of course favor early posts which have had longer to accumulate pageviews). My "Best of Blogoseyo" one got the most non-home-page hits. Individual posts:
1. Nice Galaxy Tab Ad
2. Slutwalk
3. How to Avoid Getting Forced to Drink in Korea
4. Hyun Bin Psy, and why you can't skip your military service.
5. The "Ni-ga/See These Rocks" post.
6. I am A Singer
7. 12 Actually Useful Tips for Live in Korea
8. Nobody Owns Arirang (related: Who owns a culture)
9. On Netizens Finding Blackout Korea
10. Ten Things about The Last Godfather

All of my top five most commented pieces are also on the top ten most viewed list, except this one: (sexism in the K-blogosphere) so I'm not going to bother with a separate list.

Most interesting observation: none of my writings about English education and English teachers made the list, and almost all of them were analytical pieces on current news stories, or living in Korea tips. So... more of them, I suppose.

Other notable non-2011 posts getting a lot of views
Corporal punishment in Korea's schools
My review of "My Sassy Girl" (hated it)
and most of the pieces linked on the "best of blogoseyo" page. Which I'll need to update with pieces from 2011.

So... what top stories, awesome new photography blogs, podcasts, or general blogs, did I miss, readers?