Category Archives: the Korean thing

This is kind of a depressing realization

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Back when I watched Hack Zico, something Zico said to Crush really stuck in my mind. They were talking about traveling, and Zico said:

When Zico was forced to go to America…?

Now, we are talking about Zico here, so it’s entirely possible that he’s just whining and exaggerating. But….

As far as I can recall–and a Google search provides me with no alternatives–the one time Crush and Zico were in the United States together was for K-Con LA in 2015 (and Zico stayed on to film “Veni Vidi Vici“).

Aaaand I was just reading this post from Ask a Korean, which touches on recent revelations about the Park administration’s heavy-handed approach to the Korean entertainment industry, including blacklisting troublesome celebrities.

Of course, I already knew that K-Con France was organized more or less with the purpose of funneling public funds into private pockets. (For the record: I don’t think the festival’s organizers had that purpose in mind at all–but certain people in the Korean government clearly did.) Of course, you can’t throw a K-Pop festival without K-Pop talent, and there is so much more money to siphon off if you can force talent to appear on the cheap.

How could you do that? Well, there’s always the direct threat of blacklisting, but more probable in my mind would be to get at them through CJ E&M, a major media company that is a big backer of K-Con (and is also Block B’s distributor). The Park administration forced out the parent company’s vice chair in October 2014; I would assume that CJ E&M became a lot more tractable to the government’s wishes after that. And I would note that K-Con’s big expansion from being a Los Angeles-only festival to being a worldwide, multi-festival operation began the next year.

So, yeah. Maybe Zico was just being dramatic when he said that he was forced to go to the United States with Crush–but maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Block B has been appearing at far fewer K-Con festivals since the Choi Soon-sil scandal erupted–but maybe it’s not.

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What I wish I knew about Suwon before I went

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I’m home again–a bit muzzy from the jet lag, but nothing too bad. (I have a portable light box I bought during our massive gloom this year, so I brought it along to help with the jet lag. I think that worked–I haven’t been to Asia before, so maybe this is just because of the location, but my jet lag wasn’t nearly as bad this trip as it has been in the past.)

Anyway, it was super-easy to get around Seoul–the subway is great–but while it was easy to get to Suwon, and while I really liked Hwaseong Fortress, getting around Suwon was a little tricky. Obviously I managed, but I would have appreciated having some more guidance–whereas Seoul’s transportation system is very much set up with the non-Korean speaker in mind, that is not the case with Suwon.

So, let’s say you subway, Korail, or KTX it down to Suwon Station. (There’s also a $12 shuttle bus that goes between Incheon Airport and Hotel Castle in the hotel district.) That’s great, but your hotel probably isn’t near the station. The cool stuff isn’t there, either.

 

How do you get to the cool stuff and the hotels? Luckily there are a number of buses (the 10, the 66, and the 83-1 are three, there may be more) that run up and down the big east-west street connecting Suwon Station to the hotel district (and passing just south of the cool stuff)!

But here’s the tricky bit:

Suwon Station

There are two big exits out of Suwon Station. The one to the west takes you out to an enormous roundabout where you can catch all sorts of buses!

This is the wrong exit.

Those are not the buses you need–they are express buses that will zip you off to God only knows what faraway corner of Korea. You want to go out the opposite way, to the east. You will come out onto a great big street. Make a left (don’t cross the street) and walk up to the local bus shelter (local buses are green). They pull in and pull out again at about 100 miles an hour, so get ready! (But if you miss one, don’t panic–the buses come often, and there is a display telling you when the next is coming.)

You can use your T-money or CashBee card on the buses, and I suggest you do. I also recommend that, while in Suwon Station, you make sure that your card has plenty of money on it. Why? Because I still have no idea what the fucking bus fare is–it was not displayed on the buses anywhere that I could see, and the information I got on-line was obviously out of date, which is why my card ran out of money.

OK, so now you’re on your way! And you want to see the cool stuff!

That’s a satellite picture of the wall–you can see that it’s quite something! The little castle marker down where the circle doesn’t quite complete itself is Paldalmun Fort. (It’s in a roundabout.) The long dark north-south line between the fort and the beginning of the east wall is a river, which has been channeled and has a park around it. The treed area where the west wall is is actually a pretty steep hill!

The famed Joseon Stairmaster.

You can see that the wall runs right through the city. The neighborhood just between Paldalmun Fort and the beginning of the east wall is a traditional market where you can get street food; the neighborhood west of the fort is very pretty and more touristy, with crafts shops and cafés. Also in the area is, no lie, the chicken district–as in the kind you eat. Apparently there’s also a soondae district, although I did not see it myself. In short, many food options lie about the fort. Yum-yum!

As you walk along the wall, you will sooner or later come upon a tourist information center. There, you can pay the whopping $1 fee it costs to visit the wall (if you’re too cheap for that, 1. you’re an unbelievable jerk, and 2. you’re SOL because they will check for the ticket if you’re a foreigner). You can also pick up an English-language map, which I should note focuses on the wall and the tourist attractions, not the city itself–the blank spaces are actually full of buildings.

I walked, so my map got all beat to hell.

If you’re not up for the hike, you can pay to ride a trolley–less physical labor, but the downside is that you won’t get see things up close, and the trolley road doesn’t go to the attractions at the top of the hill. I should note that, if you walk, you usually have a choice of two trails–one is right up next to/on the wall and is more rugged, and the second is a little bit away from the wall and is more level and smooth (a lot of locals, including many seniors, walk or jog the smoother trail for exercise). I walked the wall east-to-west (counterclockwise on the map), but I think it would be better to go west-to-east–that way you get the big hill done with early in your hike, you end your hike right at the market, and you can just follow the river back down to the bus. I was not up for visiting the temporary palace after walking the wall, but I would assume it’s a good option if a long hike is not your cup of tea.

All right! So, I hope that helps anyone thinking of making the visit to Hwaseong Fortress to navigate the trip. I really thought it was worth doing!

OK, I no longer regret leaving Seoul

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I went to Suwon, which I had to look up back when I was first putting together BlockB.com (it’s where U-Kwon was born), and I discovered that it was a walled city, which sounded really cool. The Hwaseong Fortress is a World Heritage site, and you can take the freakin’ subway to Suwon from Seoul, so I decided to go.

First things first: Even Suwon has one of these:

Only five stories, not eight.

Better yet: The fortress is awesome! You can walk the wall (cost: $1), and there’s just an incredible variety of posts and command centers and gates and things. The city has outgrown the wall of course, so the wall goes through it, which is really cool. The wall is mostly lined with parks, and it’s definitely a major hangout for locals looking to get some exercise in a beautiful environment. (It’s also where school groups go, including one filled with hyper young boys who screamed “HELLO!” at me at the top of their lungs.)

I took, like, a million photos, so these are just some random highlights in no particular order.

So, definitely if you’re a great big history nerd like I am, Suwon is worth the trip. But while it’s not the country, you’re definitely dealing with a population that isn’t as used to dealing with foreigners and will just rattle off a bunch of Korean at you at top speed like there’s any chance in hell you’re going to understand it. (“Hanguk mal jal moteyo” has gotten a lot of exercise today.) Also there’s no subway, and the buses are kind of stimulating to get on and off of because the drivers don’t mind opening the doors before the bus has actually stopped.

Nonetheless, I have dealt with some very lovely people today, including a bus driver who let me skimp on the fare when it turned out my T card had run out of money, and a young woman who went to the effort to look up the English word for refrigeration in case I didn’t eat my pork sandwich right away.

Guess where I am!

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Hint #1: In the past few days, just walking around, I have heard the following songs, which were not being blasted out of any musical equipment that I own:

“H.E.R”
“Red Sun”
“Yozm Gang”
“Fanxy Child”
“Oppa’s Car” (yeah, that’s not Block B-related–except for this–but God did it make me happy)

Hint #2:

It’s HUMID!

Yes, I’m in Seoul! I’ve been here for three days–today I go to Suwon for a day and then back home. All I can say about Seoul is WOW–I realize I’m here during a holiday period, so it probably isn’t quite this awesome normally, but in terms of fantastic public spaces, Seoul really takes the cake. I think it’s probably better even than New York City, and that’s a pretty high bar.

I’ve seen the guard ceremony at Gyeonbokgung Palace (the people in hanbok are just other visitors who dressed up for the holiday):

Communed with Nature along the quiet banks of the peaceful Han River:

(Yeah, that one didn’t quite go as planned–I found a seat and listened to a busker instead.)

Went up to Namsan Tower, where couples “lock” their love (there’s a huge compound up there, with restaurants and arcades and what have you).

And toured the garden at Changdeokgung!

So, yeah, I’m really enjoying myself! Everything’s been MORE than I expected–I walked myself to exhaustion at both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, and I still didn’t see either compound in its entirety. The only disappointing thing was when I went to Apgujeongdong to see the K-Pop Bears: I couldn’t find them (there wasn’t any kind of guide when you left the subway station, although that might have been because things were closed for the holidays), and OH MY GOD is Apgujeongdong a dump. Wow. The stuff inside the stores is cool, but it’s definitely the shittiest-looking “nice” neighborhood I have ever seen.

I wish I had booked a longer trip, and I’m trying to remind myself that the plane ticket was very expensive so I can’t come back over and over again. Once you get here, though–my God are things cheap. (Except granola. Granola is imported from Europe and shockingly expensive.) The palaces were mostly free because of the holidays, but the all-palace pass is about $10. The garden tour of Changdeokgung, which is a freaking World Heritage Site, set me back a whopping $5. That was for a guided tour, in English.

My Korean is terrible, but it’s Seoul so most cashiers speak a little English and I’ve been able to get by without major problems. If you are not Asian you WILL get stared at, and people will also ask you where you’re from and how long you’ve been in Korea. The kids are really cute about it; I wave at them, and they excitedly report that fact to their bemused parents and then drop their snacks. Elderly people seem to go to extremes, tending to be either incredibly friendly–“I love America!”–or quite rude (so far not in English, so it’s easy to ignore). I guess it’s also a little unusual to be a non-Asian tourist here, although Seoul is definitely a great tourist destination. Still, I get the impression that most Westerners here live here, and that the expat community is pretty tight–they don’t approach and interrogate you directly like the older Koreans do, but they do stare at you like they’re expecting (and expecting) you to start talking to them, which is a little awkward when you’re just passing through….

A happy accident

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I was trying to explain what Chuseok is apparently like in Seoul to a friend, so I went looking up an old Eat Your Kimchi video. At about the same time, iTunes served up “Winner,” and the result…was worth sharing.

I don’t have the skills to replace the soundtrack, so you’ll have to mute the sound on the top video and then hit play on them both as quickly as you can.

ETA: If you’re wondering if any major Block B announcements will be made during Chuseok, just watch that top video. No, NOTHING happens during Chuseok. And the holiday is extra-long this year.

This is why it’s called a FOREIGN country

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Of course the news that Zico will be appearing on one of Taeyang’s songs has lead to some discussion over whether or not Zico deserves such an honor, given his defective character. (Yes. You would perhaps expect Big Bang fans not to play this game, but . . . welcome to K-Pop.)

The specific context isn’t important, though–I want to talk about one particular exchange because it is something that I’ve seen happen repeatedly whenever Zico’s sins are under discussion.

First, some SJW comes up with a list of what he has done that is bad. I’m going to screenshot this one, because (quite possibly for the first time) it is factually accurate. These are things Zico actually has done–most other lists include a lot of fanciful inventions to make him look racist, sexist, or homophobic:

And the other person replies, Oh, but Zico got dragged by K-netz for all that.

That’s a pretty typical reply, regardless of the accuracy of the “Zico is racist/sexist/homophobic” list–whatever it was, K-netz dragged him for it!

But here’s the thing: Zico got dragged by K-netz for none of that. All that stuff upset American fans, but not Korean fans.

Would you like to see the list of things Zico has been dragged by K-netz for?

  • Dating Seolhyun
  • The Thailand scandal
  • Another member of his group wearing clothing with Japanese writing on it during a Korean Independence Day celebration (happy Korean Independence Day, by the way)
  • Kissing a man on Saturday Night Live
  • The rice-pizza scandal

Notice a gap there? No concern about racism; no concern about sexism; no concern about homophobia (quite the contrary, in fact). Case in point: The American controversy over racism and homophobia in “Tough Cookie” was SO big . . . it resulted in a couple of Pann posts explaining to Koreans that it existed. (Kissing a man? Government sanction of the show. No lie.)

Korea is 96% Korean. The use of American slurs or anything that requires knowledge of American history doesn’t have a huge impact there, because Koreans (including the Koreans who do these things) don’t understand–that is not an excuse, that is a fact. This is why you have really weird shit, like Koreans doing the minstrel Michol character, and then saying it wasn’t racist because they didn’t make him that dark.

None of that is the same as saying that Koreans are not capable of understanding that something is offensive and why (and then apologizing, and then having those apologies left off those SJW lists). But it does mean that education is required. It’s simply unrealistic to expect Koreans to have the same intuitive knowledge of what is offensive to Americans that Americans have (just like an American isn’t likely to have the same intuitive knowledge of what is offensive to Kore–Jesus Christ! Did you just give your money to that store clerk with one hand!?).

Education does work though, which I think is something these K-Pop SJWs like to ignore, because then they’ll have nothing to post about. (Other than, you know, shit that actually matters–but that stuff is scary and hard.Show Me the Money never even used to bleep the N-word out of raps; now it’s widely understood among Korean rappers that it’s better to avoid the use of that word (even though they’re not white). It’s an uphill climb, of course: Why would you expect anything else, especially given Korea’s demographics? Korea is a country with a 96% rate of ethic homogeny trying to remake itself into a multicultural society–that’s not going to happen without a few (more than a few) hiccups.

Korea Times Music Festival–whoot! whoot!

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So, if I was able to fall asleep after, you know it must have been exhausting–the KTMF was four-and-a-half hours of long! But fun. Lots of fun.

Actually, the concert was four-and-a-half hours. (Bastarz sang all of three songs–if there’s only one group you want to see, this is not the venue I’d recommend.) Before the concert was the festival, which mainly seemed to be booths where they’d spin a wheel and you win stuff. Honestly, at this point in my life, I don’t feel a need for more stuff, but people seemed to enjoy it.

And there were a lot of people.

It had what I think every festival could use–a giant cup of ramen walking around.

Not shown: The concerned little girl who did not think that giant cups of ramen should be allowed to walk around.

My main regret from deciding to kind of avoid the festival side of things is that (since you can eat in the Hollywood Bowl) everyone around me had the most delicious-smelling Korean food, and I was very jealous (I made do with a lame sandwich from the concessions stand). If I do this again, and I might, I’ll have to investigate and figure out where that food came from.

This was my first time going to the Hollywood Bowl, which was really cool. (And I second the advice to walk there from the Hollywood and Highland Metro station–it’s less than a mile, and it’s a gradual slope. It only gets steep once you’re inside.)

 

I’m sharing so many pictures of the Hollywood Bowl because I was too far away and my phone camera was too crappy to get good pictures of the actual concert, especially once it got dark and everything was backlit.

But I did get a good one of Haha’s hair being blown so it looked silly (it was windy), while Tiffany’s hair just looked wind-blown and glamours. (They were the MCs.)

And I tried really hard with Bastarz and managed to get all of one shot:

As I mentioned, KTMF is really long–there were introductory performances as well, so I think we saw something like 15 or 16 different acts? It’s also attracts a range of ages, and the music isn’t just idol pop. (There were some grannies sitting near me, and it was funny to see what made them plotz. Believe it or not, a Black gospel choir from Crenshaw and DJ Doc both did the trick)

Because the festival was so big and diverse, it’s kind of hard to talk about it in a coherent fashion, so I guess I’ll talk about what stuck out to me.

Bastarz

I’ll start with them, because why not? Like I said, they only did three songs (“Make It Rain,” “Charlie Chaplin,” and “Conduct Zero”)–they were funny and weird, of course, and there were quite a few honey wands in the audience (alas, I forgot to pack my little one). There were three big video screens on the stage, and the cameramen were shooting the three of them so that each one appeared on a screen. But that actually made them look cool and organized, so it triggered the Block B Chaos Effect, and one of the feeds went dead and stayed dead for the rest of the concert. (You tempt the Block B Chaos Effect at your peril, show technicians!)

I don’t really like normal idol performances

It was interesting to see where Bastarz/Block B fits on the idol-other musician spectrum (basically: We’re trying to idol, but we’re not very good at it).

Most of the performers were not idol performers, and in all honestly I was very thankful for that, because I enjoyed the normal idol performances the least by far.

Why? Well, there’s just not a lot of actual stagecraft going on there. The boy groups (Victon, NCT 127) danced very well but didn’t do a whole lot in the way of singing, so it was like watching a dance troupe perform to a song they downloaded from the Internet. Apink and Tiffany sang more and danced less, but it was all devoid of spontaneity. No one was working the audience or getting everyone going, because there just wasn’t any room for that.

In contrast, the hip-hop groups (Skull & Haha, DJ Doc) were VERY good at riling up the audience. (And DJ Doc was just like, “GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS UP!!!”–they didn’t give a shit before they were respected industry seniors, and they certainly don’t give a shit now. The grannies didn’t mind.) The non-idol soloists (Kim Yeong Im, Cho Hang Jo, Chu Ga Yeoul, Min Kyung Hoon, and Gummy) were just amazing musically, so even though I wasn’t familiar with their stuff, I’d gladly watch any of them live again.

But all that musicality and stagecraft was just missing from the idol performances–even if I liked the songs, the idol format was just kind of blah.

Haha is a very funny man

Very funny. He barely speaks English, and yet I, who understand precious little Korean, thought he was hilarious (he and Tiffany kept sparring over the correct pronunciation of “McDonald’s”). When he came out to perform with Skull, he was wearing dark glasses, but then he whipped them off to sing “soulfully” into the camera for “Don’t Laugh”–and in the process he dropped them, so he had to retrieve them from an audience member afterward.

The English-only crowd should stay away

Not that they’d come anyway, but the whole thing was largely in Korean with only occasional English.

Which meant that the patter could get a little dull, but sometimes I understood it. Like Kim Yeong Im asked if we wanted an encore, which we most certainly did, and then she said something along the lines of how she was happy to hear it because she wasn’t sure how she’d hold up against all the younger idol groups, and then I believe she implied that Haha had given her a hard time about all that.

Then she performed and was great, and Haha ran out and threw confetti on her.

And NCT 127 will forever be to me The Group of Young Men Who Don’t Speak English Well and Are Very Self-Conscious About It…Plus Two Total Bros (yeahahahahah).

P.O actually gave English the old college try (“Yes!” “The weather is nice!”), which was delightfully awkward (although his pronunciation was very good). He read his patter from a card, which resulted in things like, “I’m so happy [pauses to squint at paper] to be here.”

So, I had a great time! And it was a handy excuse to travel someplace where you can actually see the sun, which God knows I needed!

ETA: I know some non-Americans were upset that there wasn’t a big crowd to greet Bastarz at the airport–guys, Americans don’t do that, certainly not like people in Asia. I think the members of Block B are used to that by this point.