Saturday, March 31, 2007
Naturally the wedding began when two women dressed like the nurse from Pokemon raised their swords to salute the bride and her father.
I didn't know that the Korean Marines accepted whispy girls with sturdy farmer's legs. Nonetheless I cannot deny that the bride's father deserves this honor, what with his Prince Valiant hairstyle.
After a wedding speech in which the presiding, um, guy spent fifteen minutes out of twenty talking about the necessity of performing lots of filial piety, being a good son and daughter-in-law to his friend, the groom's father, and actually making the groom put his father on his back and carry him around the altar, the confused couple are finally man and wife.
Like any newly married couple, the first thing they must take care of is the lighting of the small low quality cake perched atop a giant plastic 3-tier wedding cake, and the subsequent cutting of said cake with one of the nurse/marine's swords.
The bride and groom, having conquered the cake, move on to their new life together.
It is at this point that notice that the bride bears a striking resemblance to actress Kim Hae-Suk, the reigning queen of frustrated but lenient wife and mother characters, perhaps best utilized in the movie My Brother (우리 형).
Of course she has quite a few more years on her than the blushing bride, but the resemblance stands.
After the ceremony everybody ran downstairs to the buffet, where the guests from all that day's weddings eat together. Here's a glimpse at Miyoung's friends' table, fully furnished with cola, beer and soju.
When I go to things like this, nobody understands why I take the pictures I do. I once forgot to take any pictures of the bride and groom because I was busy taking pictures of people taking pictures with their cameraphones. well after I snapped a shot of the table, I was bound to take a picture of the table's occupants, who were all funny and nice guys if more than a little uncomfortable in my presence.
Here's an intriguing view of Anyang from the wedding hall bathroom window. Something about those buildings and mountains always gets me.
After Anyang, Miyoung and I went to Insadong, Seoul's number one touristy street. It's the place that Koreans think that foreigners would like to see, and if the foreigners are looking to shop, they're right. Since we're leaving Korea in four months and change, a trip to Insadong every now and then is food for thought on gifts for friends and the like. Of course once there we had to line up at one of the 'famous' street stalls that sell hoddeok (호떡 - sounds like 'ho duck', basically a glob of dough with cinnamon and sugar in the middle, stamped flat and fried). The line we are in is wrapping all the way around the stall there, and at 50 cents a piece they are just raking in the dough, no pun intended. The russet colored garbage can in the middle of the picture is filled to the brim with the next batch of dough.
If this next picture makes your mouth water, you've been in Korea too long.
Here's what a hoddeok maker's labratory looks like. the key to the process is the stamp she's holding, with which she presses, weights down, and flips the hoddeok. It smells like funnel cakes.
After our fix of fried dough and melted sugar, we went over to Ssamziegil, an interesting project that tries to blend Korean tradition with the kind of hokey time wasters and crafts-y stores that you're likely to encounter in the parts of American theme parks like Six Flags where people who don't like roller coasters congregate. I'm talking paint-your-own mug shops, engraving on clunky silver-esque jewelry, and a lot of colorful low-priced jewelry and accessory shops. The building is a spiral ramp, offering a seemless promenade experience and inding you to the window-shopping speeds of your fellow gawkers. The crowd inside Ssamziegil seems to be much more Korean than the general flow of traffic on the street in Insadong, which I mainly attribute to the fact that the facility doesn't look at all impressive from the street. It's rare to see pure foreign tourists unaccompanied by a Korean there. Here's Miyoung enjoying a chamomile tea in a cafe near the top of the structure.
After a calming rest in Ssamziegil we stepped into an old-fashioned Jujeom (주점 - Sounds like 'Jew jump' without the 'p', literally 'liquor place'). Because the place was a drinking extablishment and we weren't drinking I was skeptical of the food, but they had a menu of hearty perennial favorites. The picture below shows the place's typical two-tier structure, with just enough room on each tier to sit down, but not to stand. Also, the sign on the bathroom door here said '향기나는곳' or 'The place from whence the fragrance comes'. Classy euphemism.
The side dishes, clockwise from left: very fishy kimchi, sauteed 'fiddleheads' or fern sprouts(고사리, gosari), whole anchovies (멸치, myeolchi), spinach, and bean sprouts.
After a remarkable dinner of unremarkable things (kimchi stew and bulgogi) that are different every time you eat them, we headed back to beautiful Bucheon. Here's Miyoung in front of the taxi roundabout at Bucheon station. In the background you can see brightly lit neon building containing the Victoria night club and "The Jam" movie theater, a TGI Fridays, Starbucks, and the office of the best Ear Nose and Throat man in the business. The water wheel in front, I was once told by a friend, is a complete mystery to me.
BOSTON UNIVERSITY Publication Office
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March 30, 2007
Dear: Mr Joseph Patrick Mondello
Thank you for your recent order and payment.
Your order is now confirmed.
If you have any questions on your order, please contact the Customer Service Department at 1-800-546-6411.
The following pertains to those who ordered a Directory:
We know your directory will be a great resource in career networking and updating you on the latest happenings
of your friends and acquaintances. After the completion of research, editing, proofing and printing of each individual listing, your
directory will be shipped, and is scheduled to reach you by late October 2007.
If not satisfied, you may return your purchase within 30 days of delivery for a full refund of the product price.
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I at no point expressed any interest in buying this book, and yet I have already paid for it. The email address from whence this comes is not in fact BU but a Harris Connect. Their website says
Harris Connect is the trusted partner of literally thousands of institutions and associations. Founded in 1963 as Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc., we started out serving the educational community by partnering with institutions to publish their alumni directories. Since then, we have expanded to work with many different types of membership-based associations and companies. Back in the 1990's, we established an Internet Services Division that provides a broad array of Internet solutions to many organizations. We also formed a Data Services Division to help organizations update and use their data.Harris Connect is so trusted by Boston University that they have billed me for them, trusting in the knowledge that I could not but want their product.
Fellow BUvians, tell me you've been slimed too. They sent me requests for information a few times that I didn't respond to, then they charged me for their book and sent it to me without asking if I wanted it, and they've placed the onus on me to return the book. And they had the gall to charge me New York sales tax.
Friday, March 30, 2007
With that in mind, I've decided to go out and try to document the Bucheon I know and love, so that future generations will know what it was like to live in a good old fashioned 20th century Korean neighborhood.
We start our day in the life several hours into my day, coming home from a morning gig in downtown Seoul. It's 10 o'clock on a day of unpredictable weather, and I started off by snapping this shot out the window of the 700 bus, which runs conveniently along much of the same route that the new subway line will and affords a great view of the biggest new construction project in Bucheon, the 35-story 'We've The State' apartments. I don't know who comes up with these names, but the dubious English certainly isn't hurting housing prices.
The We've buldings are the row that defines the skyline, the two on the left still an unpainted gray and all of them still unoccupied. In front of them (and dwarved by them) in light yellow is the Dream Town apartment complex, coming in at a very standard 20 stories. before We've and 'Byzantium', another big complex going up two putative stops down, 20 was the upper limit of apartment height in Bucheon.
Here's something that has always bugged me about Korean streets. As you can see, the 'bicycle path' down the middle of the sidewalk is paved, but around it the street is paved with zigzaggy bricks. They are not mortared and require perennial resetting, which I suppose creates lots of low-paying jobs (benchmark this, Bush!) like these gentlemen are doing digging up and resetting the bricks. The funniest thing about the whole process is that the bricks were often initially set with intricate patterns or have had lines or symbols drawn on them. Tear them up and reset them and you have funky jigsaw puzzle pictures of people on bicycles and lines that jump and jerk all over the sidewalk. It makes walking fun!
In the next photo you get a good high view of the construction gong on at what will be Bucheon City Hall Station. The building at left is the Emart, formerly Walmart. Walmart folded in Korea because people wanted really fresh produce and didn't like spacious aisles (that's the paintrollered version of the story anyway). Emart is the most popular retailer in Korea, for reasons that I don't fully fathom. Nonetheless, this Emart is about to get a subway exit right in front of it. The thing about this Walmart-Emart transformation in this case is that I always thought the major problem of this location was the building. the top floors are parking, the supermarket is on basement 2, with everything else on basement one, and there's no elevator to the basement floors. You have to take a wicked slow shopping cart escalator down and up two flights of stairs just to do a little shoppin'. Nonetheless the renaming has been a great success, and even though shopping there is still a time-consuming and awkward experience, they do great business as an Emart.
Between the Emart and the three hefty buildings in the background you can see some colorful signage-covered 3-story buildings. These are some of the restaurants, sexy-lady bars, karaoke rooms and such that define Bucheon's moekgeori (pronounced 'moak-gorey', for those not in the know, it means 'eating street' and we'd define it as a promenade), a three block wide strip that runs through the middle of Bucheon for about 2 miles and features every conceivable to a Korean kind of bar and restaurant
Here's the view from the opposite direction of the umbilically connected Hyundai Department Store and the recently renamed 'The Mall'. You've got to love a corporate entity being so meta. The next building down is the currently under construction indoor water park and intercity bus terminal that is going to turn Bucheon upside down. Between Hyundai and The Mall on the street next to the stand of pines you can see a small white smudge.
The arms here are the small white smudge in the preceding picture. They're about 10 feet tall and certainly the best piece of corporate art in Bucheon, in fact the only one that doesn't make me want to die. Behind the arms you can see the express bus stop where you can catch a bus to the big city!
Most people are not aware that The United Colors of Benneton has cross-branded an interracial tandem bicycle. Miscegenators only, please.
Korea is years ahead of the rest of the world in recycling technology. Those lampshades are 100% post-consumer recycled material. It's good for the earth and for business.
Actually this is a modern updating of the old traditional bars that sold makgeolli (막걸리 - creamy rice wine served in a teakettle or a bowl) and Korean pancakes (with green onion, seafood and the like fried in. The old-fashioned places are usually rough and a little dingy, but this kind of revamp is well lit and clean, perfect for Korea's reigning generation of yuppies to connect with their culture without getting dust on their $200 pants. Just to be clear, I blame such people for the impending death of Korean culture.
This is the path running through Grape Town apartment complex south of the Hyundai department store. It provides a welcome respite from the noisy asphaltiness of the city, at least until a delivery guy on a motorcycle zooms past you, leaving you choking down a cloud of exhaust. Then again, if you had to choose between a world without motorcycles flying down the sidewalk and a twenty minute wait for sweet and sour pork, what would you choose?
It's funny how scarceness pushes up almost anything's value. The flowering and fruit bearing trees here in Boon Town may not look like much, but when you live in the neighborhood, as I did for a year, and you see these same few trees and bushes every day and develop an almost paternalistic concern for their growth. It only gets weird when someone with the same feelings catches you at it, adoring his favorite tree.
Here's the kindergarten where I work, recently renovated and looking good. It was a sickly yellow all last year, but now with white paint and new windows it's looking like a whole new place. Hopefully that'll attract back some of the students that last year's cold and off-putting manager drove away.
Here's me, trying very hard not to look stupid.
The new owner of my school is married to an art teacher, and they renovated the school accordingly.
And like so. Yes, that is fake grass on the wall. The light fixtures are actually really fascinating, but I found it impossible to photograph them, unfortunately.
This is the view out my window. From the left you see a high school, the high school auditorium, a large hospital (taller) and an apartment building, decorated with paper airplanes. One of the more classy apartment decorations I've seen. Sometimes these buildings have little depressing cartoon characters on them so ugly that if I were driving home from work to my house emblazoned with a jiggin' leprechaun on it I would rather plow the car into oncoming traffic than pull into the parking garage.
Here is a churning mass of five year olds. This class, in particular, was disturbingly good, like the final scene in The Birds. I'll spare you the pictures of less well-behaved children, who are invariably very cute.
After a long day of teaching kids, it's off to the neighborhood sangga for dinner. A sangga is essentially three strip malls wrapped up into a single sign-covered building. At night a sangga, like many buildings here, remind me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Here in the basement of the sangga is a restaurant, more accurately a few tables set up next to a door that someone can bring food out of if you ask. The restaurant is wedged between other restaurants, a rice store, a butcher shop, and a seafood store with lots of live flounder in a tank overlappingeach other. You won't find any overlapping on the restaurants' menus though; each restaurant has its turf very well stamped out. My wife Miyoung is none too happy in this picture as we are discussing a problem with an underperforming student. The yellow menu banner on her left includes 'feast noodles, rice cake-dumpling soup, dumpling soup, knife-cut noodle soup, bibim noodles (like bibimbap, with noodles instead of rice), cold noodles, bean noodles, bulgogi bowl (that's what I had), beef rib soup, intestine soup, spicy beef soup, chicken stew, and samgyetang (chicken and ginseng soup, although you ought to be on a first name basis with Mr. Tang, if you know what's good for you). Don't be so racist, all Korean food is not noodles and soups, the other half of the menu got cut off. God, I'm disappointed in you.
Here's me, waiting for my bowl of gogi, under a sign for a livestock wholesaler. In the basement of a shopping center in the middle of an apartment block in a city of one million people.
Now I've had my dinner and I'm off to my last job of the night, teaching some adults. On the way I noticed the entrance to Jungdong market, a covered street market (one of four that I have been to in Bucheon) that sells just about anything you could want. Unfortunately places like old Emart are putting traditional markets out of business. You know how when you're inside a party, you don't notice how loud the party is to the neighbors? And when you're inside a housing bubble you don't realize how your own self interested acts are having an effect on the market trends? Few Koreans would be able to contemplate the fact that their search for a better, richer life is going to snuff out a certain degree of authenticity that their grandchildren are going to have to pay through the nose for to try and get back. When this world's gone, like the Makgeolli joints of yore, the trendy fake street markets that will pop up to replace them are going to be as crass and as fake as all holy hell, and just as existentially unsatisfying.
Here's the place, the Top Institute. Just a little hole in the wall school that you'd walk right past, just off the main drag that you can see at the end of the street. But good people inside, and regardless of why, how and how much they study English, I think they're all enriching their lives and having a good time doing it. Unfortunately, they didn't photograph so well, so they're right out of this blog.
My chariot, the bus. I spend about 4 hours a day on the bus, and so I really ought to be taking more pictures on it. This is a inner-city bus, which means it's not that comfortable. there are plenty of places to hang from though, and at the right time this but will look like a hot house full of drooping fake Burberry covered vines.
Again it's me, trying not to look stupid.
That's a typical day in my life, sans the early morning. Next time I'll try to get the whole day, and since the weather's improved a lot I'll be certain to hit up my favorite parts of Bucheon, from The beautifully twisty residential streets of Wonmi-dong to the curiously international Chunui-dong, the mind-numbing monotony of Sang-dong and the budget elegance of the Hyundai Department Store, the soul-piercingly banal corporate art and the rib-ticklingly tragic Eating Street.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
It truly is a remarkable world in which someone named Hollywoodgrrl can take the entire lives of two fictional characters and a song I didn't really like all that much and simultaneously make it bloggable, convincing me of the genius of both Cat Power and Ronald D Moore. And what a great moment in time it is when there are songs like that and things on TV like Battlestar for us all to share.
I think Mr. Moore should send Hollywoodgrrl a bottle of whiskey, because she has done a lot to justify some of his recent decisions (if you've seen the video you know which two I'm talking about) in a way which I doubt he had time to edit into the most overshot, edited down show on TV.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Korean Person: Hello. I don't speak English very well.
Me: I'll be the judge of that.
Korean Person: (uncomfortable laughter). I think you like Korea very much. You are almost Korean. Can you eat spicy food?
Me: Yes, I like spicy food. We eat spicy food in America too.
Korean Person: Korean kimchi is number one. How long have you lived in Korea?
Me: Four years.
Korean Person: Wow. Are you married?
Me: Yes, my wife is Korean.
Korean Person: (aloud, to self) Oh, so that's why he's like this. (To me) Ah, you really are almost Korean! Do you have a baby?
etc. etc. etc.
Me: Where are you from?Foreigner: I'm from (some country), how about you?Me: I'm from New York [note I no longer say "America" since people no longer like America and I am tired of deflecting questions about George Bush and Iraq].Foreigner: Wow, I would love to go there some day/Oh, I've been there, I [unmemorable anecdote].Me: Yes, well, I'm not from Manhattan, I only misled you into thinking I was so that you'd feel inferior to me. How long have you been in Korea and what do you do here?Foreigner: I've been here for less than one year. I teach English at some school. I've only ever worked there, and based my entire impression of Korea and Korean people on my coworkers, the way my boss treats me, and the things I see people do on the streets and subways.Me: So when will you be going back to Canada.-or-Foreigner: I've been here many years. I speak Korean and I have a well-informed but highly idiosyncratic view of Korea that I apply to every new piece of information in such a way that it would seem to confirm my by now ossified concept of this country and its inhabitants, which may be either positive or negative, nuanced or sledgehammer blunt.Me: Me too. Let's make our unchangeable opinions crash into each other like Battlebots.
[T]he British men can be identified by their cropped hair, which they shave to obscure their genetically endemic premature hair loss. They imagine it gives them a street-hard look. Most Americans think they look like gay Marines with deformed ears.
Indeed, Brits are rarely seen in New York without their magic cloaks of invisible irony—they think that, on a fundamental level, their calling here is as irony missionaries. They bless everything and everyone with the little flick quotation marks, that rabbit-ear genuflection of cool, ironic sterility. How often their mocking conversations about the natives return to the amusing truth that New Yorkers have an unbelievable, ridiculous irony deficiency, which ignores the fact that a city that produced Dorothy Parker, Robert Mapplethorpe, Abstract Expressionism, Woody Allen, and Woody Allen's love life has quite enough irony to build the Brooklyn Bridge.
[British expats] just think [Americans] are lucky to have them. They walk into a room and imagine it just got classier.
The British in New York are not good mixers. We hunker together, forming bitchy old boys' and girls' clubs where we complain about and giggle over Americans like nannies talking about difficult, stupid children. An English girl, newly arrived, has been picked up by the expat coven and asked for tea. And rather nonplussed, she says, "It's sad and sort of weird. This is the way our grandparents used to behave in Africa and India."
Don't tell me about your latest script. You're not a film writer. You're a handyman. You've never made so much as a wedding video. You do a bit of decorating, some plumbing, and you house-sit plants. There's no shame in it. It's what immigrants do.
In the Red Lion, a bar on Bleecker Street, half a dozen televisions pump out the Rugby match between England and Scotland. It's 9:30 in the morning and the place is packed with geezers and a few chubby-cheeked, ruddy rugger-bugger girls. . . . And it strikes me that there's something unreal about this. It looks right and smells right. It even sounds right. But it's not right. They're all playing extras in their own me-in-New-York movie. They're putting on the Britishness as a show. They're going through the motions only because they're here.
The third specializes in English comestibles, the sort of thing that Englishmen abroad are supposed to yearn for: Bird's custard, Marmite, Bovril, Jammie Dodgers. The window looks like a pre-war Ealing Studios film set. Nowhere in Britain has looked remotely like this in living memory. Inside, four young Englishmen from the Midlands are reminiscing over lists of Edwardian boiled sweets, like a spoof of High Fidelity. With an intense reverie, they fold me into the conversation for a balming moment of confectionery nostalgia. "So, Victory V's or aniseed balls? We were just discussing Curlywurly versus Caramac." After we've all had a suck on the humbug of Blighty's tuck box, one of them asks, "Ever tried an American sweet? First time I ate a Hershey's bar, saddest day of my life." I managed to get out just before I turned into Oliver Twist.
These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins of Manhattan aren't our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don't mellow, their consonants don't soften. They don't relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Here's a case in point, the deliciously unfunny mapbagi (마빡이 - the transliteration is mine and mine alone, but the actual pronunciation is pretty close to "mop-boggy"). I recommend you watch just the first ten or fifteen seconds and then skip through the rest, because it really is like watching someone pull teeth:
Also I don't know why the guy doing mapbagi sounds like he's doing a Mexican accent. Korean doesn't sound like that usually. Mapbagi sort of means "forehead slapper", and the joke in the above clip is that the character is supposed to freak out the audience with his ugly creepiness. "Are you scared? No? You were supposed to be scared. Well I'll tell you something really scary: there's a bunch of other's just like me backstage waiting to some out." he says. As the sketch continues the first guy starts getting really tired and complains to the second guy, who says "You wrote this sketch." Big laugh. The other two guys come out, everyone's complaining about how hard it is to keep it up. Finally the last guy comes out and, repeatedly slapping himself in the front and back of the head, delivers the punch line of the sketch. "Is this all there is to this sketch?" The sketch reminds me of nothing more than the Kids in the Hall sketch about the comedy writer who forgot to write the end of the sketch he's in. That's the one where the boss realizes he's trapped in the sketch and he'll never see his wife again, so he decides to write her a letter and asks the writer what her name is, and it turns out it's Iris Picklefeather. But it's not nearly as funny.
Disturbingly the sketch got incredibly popular among people aged 4-35, but they dropped the meta aspect of the sketch and just focused on the repetitive head-slapping. Everyone imitated it for weeks. It's started to peter out, finally, leaving a bewildered nation wondering what they ever found funny about it.
Just like Adult Swim!
The major difference between the shows on Adult Swim and Korea's awful sketch shows is that the people who watch Adult Swim in order to develop an artificial non-mainstream sense of humor, while Korean sketch shows reinforce cultural unity. It's like gangs that force members to commit crime in order to join so they'll all be united by a shared shame: These shows force their audiences to pretend they find something funny in order to build a sense of unity. For any member of each group to admit that they don't think the jokes are actually funny would be like standing in a room full of naked emperors and saying "I have no clothes on."
I just had to throw in that last one, from her new movie whose English name may be something like "The not-so-good family" (좋지 아니 한가)