Tag Archives: K-pop

I don’t Seoul.U

Bear

One thing that irritates me about Seoul, are people’s desire to make the city a major international tourist attraction without A) examining what makes the city unique and B) examining what foreigners are actually interested in. It seems that decisions on creating tourist attractions and campaigns are based more on a committee which have very little to do with the place and the audience.

The city will be repurposing an old overpass near Seoul Station and turning it into the Seoul Skygarden, an elevated park in the middle of a busy city center. They hired international designers to create the park, thus hoping to add some international design accolades on paper. Great, just great. I work near that area. It has extremely heavy traffic and the station itself is popular among homeless people. An elevated park with cafes and restaurants will not only worsen traffic conditions, it will further displace the homeless population. That or they would just gladly hangout at the internationally, designed structure.

It’s like the designers and city planners just thought about modernity and ignored everything else. It’s already been done with the station itself. Seoul Station used to be this old building built during the Japanese occupation. Ugly history aside, it’s still a beautiful and historic building. But the city decided to build a new Seoul Station right next to it, a modern structure that says absolutely nothing. Passersby wouldn’t even be able to make out the shape of the whole structure amongst the menagerie of glass and neighboring shops.

They do this again and again. City Hall is shaped like a wave that is trying to hide behind other more interesting buildings. Dongdaemun Design Plaza replaced the old stadium which displaced many of the people who used to do business in the old structure. Now it’s a pretentious glob right in the middle of a shopping area. It houses high-end fashion shops, replacing old merchants struggling to make ends meet by hawking their wares. Noryangjin Fish Market is being modernized into a soulless department store-looking bland attraction. Fish mongers who’ve done business there for years are being pressured by the city as well as gangsters to move to the newer, modern-looking area. City planners, instead of seeing what works and embracing it, they try to modernize things into attractions that would ultimately look old and dated given five or ten years. Seoul City Hall is not iconic, neither is Dongdaemun Design Plaza. They look like poor stabs at looking modern.

It’s really is a shame, but Koreans are often misguided when it comes to capitalizing on their environment and cultural appeal outside of K-pop. Even their attempts to coming up slogans for the city and the country have been disastrous. “I.Seoul.U” is a confusing mess that would attract no one. If anything, it reflects on the need to sound modern and hip to the detriment of language and communication. As for “Creative Korea,” ironically, it looks like it was plagiarized from “Creative France.” Appropriately, it speaks to the lack of creativity and poor attempts by the Korean tourism authorities. And in both cases, I believe no English-speaking expats, people who have learned to appreciate the country from an outsider’s point of view, have been consulted for the slogans.

Mind you, other cities are not immune to this. As much as I love Winnipeg, I’ve never liked its much-beloved Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I feel for the sentiment and the purpose of the place, but it looks like structure straight out of Mad Max. Also, who would travel to Winnipeg to see a museum on human rights? At least Edmonton had the wisdom to build the West Edmonton Mall. Americans and Canadians alike would drive for hours to visit Edmonton, a city of less than a million people, just to visit the giant mall. This would never be the case with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s like city planners are actively targeting the mandatory school field trip crowd. And despite being a structure dedicated to human rights, I remember planners were quick to ignore Aboriginal concerns regarding artifacts and Aboriginal graveyards. Just like Seoul, it’s a modern ugly structure that ignores many of the locals’ concerns and would likely not increase local tourism.

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Monkey See

monkey

So what’s on television?

Korean television is 40 percent people eating/cooking, 30 percent dramas, and 30 percent celebrities talking or singing, or being in any format where they’d end up just chatting or singing. That breakdown is a tad unscientific, but it’s basically all that I see whenever my wife channel surfs. Lately, there have been a couple of trends: having foreigners who speak Korean on television, and having celebrities’ children go about their everyday life. All in all, there’s nothing too compelling.

Some people say that Japanese television is also the same, just people eating or watching celebrities react to different topics. But I don’t really watch too much Japanese television.

There are foreign channels here but they are simply awful. There’s Discovery Channel, National Geo, and TLC. So if you want to learn about panning for gold, ghost hunting, or baking cupcakes, you got your channels. Local stations would show different CSIs, NCIS, and other network dramas, but not so much of the amazing Renaissance television has been experiencing on cable.

For years, all of my viewing entertainment has been on the Internet. I’ve become one of those people that would just watch whole seasons of shows within a week. Thank you, Internet. I’ve gotten access to long dead shows and movies that people don’t really hear too much about. These shows probably wouldn’t have been broadcast in Korean television. But then again, they probably wouldn’t have been broadcast in Canadian television either. Do they still show reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Last time I was in Canada, I wasn’t too impressed with what my sister had on television. She was watching OWN.

Speaking of sister, she was watching a lot of Filipino television as well. The shows seem to be very celebrity driven as opposed to being about good writing. There’s a lot of melodrama and schlock. Like everything, it could be good in small doses, but I’m not sure about a steady diet.

I also stayed with my best friend while in Canada and she’s content with just having Netflix. I guess much like me, she prefers to watch seasons of shows or have a movie playing. She’s not much for keeping up with what’s on on television either. I guess it’s not just me being here in South Korea that’s driven my viewing to the Internet. I guess it’s the future of the media.

In any case, if you’re in Korea, the Internet is vital. Otherwise, you’d either be watching a lot of Koreans eating things or you’ll simply be getting a lot more reading done.

I recently saw the latest Planet of the Apes film. I really like where they’re going with this franchise.

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Let’s talk K-pop, Musicals, and Street Cred, Yo!

prepubescent

 

Whenever someone mentions the word “Zorro” to me, the first thing that comes to mind is a prepubescent Asian boy wearing make-up.

A problem with K-pop is that it’s all basically manufactured. Real artists are rare, and the songs, the dance, the clothes, are all engineered products. And while the banner is that of a musical, it still runs into the problem of men in K-pop which Abigail Covington over at the A.V. Club eloquently explains:

“The biggest problem with K-pop’s boy bands is that they are as equally manufactured as the girl groups but much less convincing. Manufacturing charm is feasible. Manufacturing sex appeal is a no-brainer. But manufacturing grit (a relatively necessary quality for men if you are working within the heteronormative boundaries of a conservative culture like South Korea’s) is nearly impossible. It always turns into cheese. ”

And cheese is exactly what you get, especially when Korean music companies manufacture hip-hop. While the west makes stars out of people with a bit of, for a lack of a better word, “street cred,” here it seems they make stars out of anyone with good looks and a ton of choreography. There is no grit, just “cuteness” and clothes that were carefully chosen by a fashion coordinator. How clueless could a person be about grit and rapping when they have to pay Coolio to be a hip-hop teacher for a day? (http://noisey.vice.com/en_ca/blog/bts-american-hustle-life-coolio-k-pop-hip-hop-school) Isn’t the medium supposed to be an expression of truths and real life experiences?

I’m not saying that western music is immune to such corporate products, after all; I’m from Canada, the country that produced Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber. It just amazes me how some people buy into it.

Anyway, back to “Zorro.” Aside from the lameness of incorporating K-pop into the production, I notice that the recent local musical productions have been on properties and stories that are all already long established in people’s psyche: Three Musketeers, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula. It seems like the only way to get musicals in here is to have it already be popular in other mediums. I don’t think local productions of “Chicago” or “Dreamgirls” would have been made here if they weren’t already popular years ago in film. Not many people know Jennifer Holliday. They do know Jennifer Hudson. And this is not a condemnation of local tastes, but rather the unwillingness of production companies to trust their audience and their own musical talent. They fail to truly believe that a musical production would succeed by its own strengths. Instead, there has to be familiarity or a gimmick. In both cases they both appear to be cynical marketing crutches.

I don’t think there would be a local production of “The Producers” anytime soon, which is probably for the best. I wouldn’t want prepubescent Asian boys playing Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

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No English For Me

flowers_tentacles_spikes

I’ve been trying to learn Korean on and off for the past few years. I’ve taken Korean classes, listened to tapes, did the whole Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur thing. My problem is there hasn’t really been many opportunities for me to practice speaking Korean, and my level remains pretty low. My wife and I speak English to each other, and I don’t need to use any Korean at work. I suppose it would be easier if I was interested in any Korean media, but there’s really nothing on television that interests me at all. As for K-pop, no. No, just no.

So what’s the plan now? From now on, the rule will be to use Korean exclusively whenever I’m home. It will be a frustrating experiment but it will hopefully force me to learn more Korean and get used to speaking the language, or at least get me used to speaking key phrases that couples use all the time. People on average use 5000 words out of the 50,000 to 250,000 words in their personal vocabulary. I figure most of those words combine to a handful of routine conversational phrases which I really should be practicing more (I guess that’s a bit of a sad state of affairs regarding conversation between married people).

Well, good luck to me, I guess. Hopefully I don’t get too bored, lose my sense of humor and personality, or just stay quiet the rest of the time I’m home.

I actually think my wife has a crush on one or two of the foreigners on Korean talk shows who speak fluent Korean. I suppose that’s natural, and I really can’t fault a person for that. It just boggles my mind however the extent that the foreigners on television who speak Korean fluently also pander and adopt behavior that for lack of a better word, is so alien to their home country (at least in my opinion) They also entertain topics of conversation that would at the very least get my eye rolling and at most, enrage me. Is this what happens when you learn Korean? Or at least when you learn Korean for Korean television?

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They don’t do humans.

Korean_drama

I don’t watch Korean dramas. Despite their global popularity and despite me being in the country, it’s just not my thing. My wife however often follows one or two dramas. I don’t really pay attention, but sometimes she’ll explain things to me or I’ll just absorb it through osmosis. One particular drama though has me seeing red. My wife stopped following it but will occasionally watch it or read what’s going on online. Now, I don’t know much about Korean dramas, but whoever’s writing “Princess Aurora” is a cynical, creatively bankrupt writer who has no concept of how human beings function in real life.

Here are some points (You don’t have to know the plot).

1. The male lead basically stalked the female lead and later won her affections. Not only does this encourage stalking, but is akin to my experience with Korean women and their stalker exes. “She will come back to me once she dumps him!”

2. The weaksauce male lead’s life is controlled by his three older spinster sisters. The writer must have a thing for weak men.

3. The female lead dumps the male lead, starts dating some sucker, then later dumps him and marries the lead. This sucker later ends up getting cancer, so the female lead gets a divorce and marries him.

4. The sucker who got cancer asks the male lead to help him recover because he’s the only man he trusts with his wife. Did I say he was a sucker? The two later become friends.

5. The sucker also chooses not to treat his cancer because he considers it a living being and a part of nature. The sucker however has no qualms about eating bacon. Heck, even a plant is more sentient than cancer!

6. The cancer spontaneously goes into remission. I suppose that happens SOMETIMES, but the writer basically took a shit on everyone who lost a loved one to cancer despite aggressive treatment. Maybe the cancer responded to idiocy.

7. My wife first got interested in the show because one of the side characters is bisexual and is involved in a love triangle between his gay live-in boyfriend and another girl, the writer’s niece. My wife thought it was interesting that a major Korean show is tackling gay issues on primetime. Although I pointed out that if she knew Korean women, not one of them would ever be with a gay man if they had a visual of what gay sex involves. (But then again, a lot of men in K-Pop look really gay to me.)

8. The gay character tried teaching his boyfriend’s mother how to “go-go dance.” He teaches her “the hustle” instead. What kind of homosexual doesn’t know the difference between “go-go dance” and “the hustle?”

9. This gay character decides to go to a temple, bow a thousand times everyday in front of Buddha, and becomes straight. The show basically says you can pray the gay away. So much for tackling gay issues. The writer just took a shit on gay people.

10. Come to think of it, the writer took a shit on human sexuality in general. Does this mean I can bow a thousand times everyday and become gay as well? Can I pray the straight away?

11. The formerly gay character is now dating one of the spinster sisters.

There are so many other hackneyed points in the show but this list would get too long. The writer is basically just writing the show in order to create buzz among Korean netizens. It is cynically manipulative. It’s like she’s going through a list of what would get the Internet talking about the show? What next? A tragic death? AIDS? Twerking?

My wife says most people realize this, but it’s like watching a really bad car accident. Now, I don’t mind watching garbage television and bad writing. I used to watch Sons of Anarchy before I realized it featured the most inept motorcycle gang in history. But it really gets my gourd when writing gets ridiculously bad and spreads misinformation about how human beings work. The thing about the gay character I feel was the worst. “Let’s all use a gay character to drive up ratings then basically say that being gay is an evil that can be cured with a bit of religion.” This is especially troubling since Koreans are still pretty much in the dark ages when it comes to certain aspects of human sexuality. This is a country where many claim “there are no gays,” AIDS is a foreign disease, and adultery is punishable by jail time.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. But with Korean dramas being very popular, I hope they’re all not as bad and as hollow as this garbage.

Here’s some art so this post is not solely about Korean dramas!

The_Hunt

The Hunt!

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