Monday, May 25, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The pictures from my trip to Mali are finally up! Check out Day 75 now!

Day 67: K-Pop

K-Pop (Korean popular music) has played a strange role in my life here in Korea. While I haven't embraced it as avidly as Anna did, for example, it's still an inescapable reality.

Every storefront. Every restaurant. Every car.

About three different songs.

But these songs change about every two weeks. Stardom in the K-pop world is a capricious wench, with songs becoming hugely, massively, almost unimaginably popular overnight, then disappearing leaving barely a ripple in the soundscape of your average Korean street. I can't even count how many "oh my god best song ever"-style number ones there have been in the past few months, let alone my entire sojourn here. But I guarantee you that my kindergarteners know all the words.

While I know I just said that K-pop hits seem to be almost by definition flash in the pan, I think I failed to emphasize appropriately just the kind of market saturation they achieve. Every storefront, every restaurant, every minute, every second, I can hear a Korean Pop song. Yes, even now.

This makes my relation to them complex. Do I know all the words? No. Do I know who sings it? No. Can I tell them all apart? Hell no. Do I have the melody of every single one and all their English lyrics irrevocably drilled into my auditory cortex? Can I whistle every single one of them, much to my students' amusement?

You bet your ass.

I don't really care for this style of music, with a few exceptions (some provided below), but it is undoubtedly catchy, and I have even begun curating a collection of the most memorable (good and bad) so I will instantly be able to recall my memories of my time here in the distant future.

This is "Gee," one of the biggest hits currently. It's by Girls Generation, who are all quite pretty but the song kind of makes me want to claw my ears off. The word "Gee" has an interesting origin in Korea. In slang, it pretty much means "oh wow, he/she is so hot!" The reason for this is apparently the keyboard. The English letters G-E-E, when typed using a Korean keyboard, spell out "ㅎㄷㄷ" which, apart from being unpronounceable (no vowels), is the noise people are supposed to make whenever they see someone ridiculously good-looking. If Koreans are anything like the Japanese, it would probably be accompanied by a raging nosebleed.

Here's one I actually like, a very K-Pop-ified cover of Craig David's "Insomnia." This one is also huge right now. From what I can tell, this one is actually more popular here than the original was in America. Of course, I wasn't in America. Also dig that totally Korean dancing in the video.

And what collection of K-Pop music videos would be complete without one by Rain? Yes, this is the video Colbert parodied here:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
He's Singing in Korean
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

Fantastic, fantastic stuff.

Here's the MV of the song that was most popular when I first arrived in Korea, by one of the biggest names currently shakin' booty in the land of the morning calm: BIG BANG. I actually like this one.

Here, then, is a song on the other end of the spectrum, the genre at its most insipid. This was popular when I arrived as well, but unlike "Lies," I tended to turn up my iPod whenever I caught the strains of this one. Note, though, how catchy still, how it refuses to leave your head. Try listening to this for about TWO MONTHS STRAIGHT every time you leave your apartment.

As for this one, well, the song is so so, but I like the, uh. Moving along.

Thought I'd end with two songs that I actually really enjoy, probably my two favorite of the genre. I've been known to sing along with the latter in noraebangs and actually impress my Korean friends with how much of it I can do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Days 74-68: Days turn into weeks

I present to you here a cop-out and a sincere apology!

I have gotten woefully behind in my writing. This week has been chock-full of busyness, work, study for the LSAT, trips to the gym and various other drains of my precious little free time.

I think I'm going to change the direction of the blog a little. I still want to update every day, but each day in the past I've put undue pressure on myself to put out a full-length post on some topic that took time to conceive and more time to write about. This led to a few nights the past week where I wasn't satisfied that I had a sufficiently interesting topic to post about, and so I pushed it back to the next day - which also got pushed back to the next day when I couldn't think of something for that day either. I don't want that kind of pressure to impede something which was originally intended as more of a "thought of the day" kind of thing, with longer, meatier entries when events warranted. I want it to get back to that, so that's what I have in mind for the future of the blog. Think of this week off as a sort of soft reset.

However, that doesn't mean the past week was without incident:

-I watched "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with friends on Wednesday. It came on hearty un-recommendation from John. He was right, it was terrible.

-Saturday night, I had an absolutely astounding meal up in Seoul with my Korean friends. We went to a sushi restaurant that specializes in serving ONLY TUNA, which is of course the best kind of sushi, and it was tremendously delightful. They even played some really horrible cover versions of much-beloved songs, including (get this) and opera version of The Beatles' "Yesterday." Meghan, Rachel and I were shocked, appalled, and in hilarity.

-Sunday night saw Kaleisha and I heading into City Hall for a concert featuring none other than TOWER OF POWER, which was probably one of the highest-energy concerts I've ever been to, ranking right up there with Zebrahead in London and Ben Folds in Cedar Rapids. The Korean opening band was fantastic, too, falling somewhere between the aforementioned Tower of Power and Big Bang (Korea's biggest pop/hip-hop group). Their name was Common Ground and I will be seeking out their music before I leave the country, including hopefully attending another concert. Did I mention this concert was free, courtesy of one of Kaleisha's student's parents. Teacher's Day is awesome.

-Speaking of Teacher's Day, Jeff told me a good joke on Saturday:
Knock, Knock
Who's there?
To Who?
It's "to whom." Happy Teacher's Day.

You can expect me back tomorrow. Again, apologies for the delay, and photos of my trip to Africa (from the last post) should be up shortly.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 75: The Africa Retrospective

In light of Elise's impending re-visit to Korea, and since I never got these photos on to the blog in the first place (it had long since been defunct), here is a smattering of photos from my December trip to Mali!

PS It was the coolest trip of my life.

EDIT: Here are those pictures. Sorry!

This is a view of a street in Bamako (the capital of Mali) right outside of our hotel - where there were some cattle being driven down the street.

This is a pretty scene in a more upscale part of Bamako kind of near the Peace Corps Bureau, if I remember correctly.

Now Elise and I are in a car with our tour guide headed to Dogon country, famous for being some of the prettiest around Mali. This is a shot out of the window at one of many similar-looking structures, made of mud bricks.

We're getting deeper into Dogon country!

If memory serves (and it does), this canyon was near the end of our car trip, whereupon we disembarked and continued our journey on foot through several small villages.

This is a mud mosque in the first village we stopped at in Dogon country. We had lunch in a very nice two-story concession nearby.

More scenery.

Now we are up in the famous ancient cliffside villages. Here's a shot of the lovely Elise in the foreground with our tour guide in the background! He was pretty cool, knew his stuff and spoke French and a little English (for me).

This is Elise and I in the fancy concession that we stayed at for pretty much an entire day during our trip. in one of the inner villages.

The rooftop terrace where we hung out all day.

Wild camel! Wild camel! En route to the next village in Dogon country.

Mali sure is pretty.

Especially when adorned with monkey skulls.

And even prettier when Elise is around!

Pigs on a mountain!

This picture is my desktop background.

Finally we leave Dogon country for the busy riverside port of Gau.

Elise is making Green Tea for our boat's captain as we sail down the "Crocodile River."

"I'm on a boat! I'm on a boat!"

Another mud mosque.

The obligatory exploiting picture of local children. But I couldn't resist because they were so cute.

Some pretty local Tuareg.

She was kind enough to pose with me in full Tuareg regalia.

One corner of Elise's concession, her papaya trees.

The main part of Elise's concession: The building on the left is her kitchen and storage room, and the building on the right edge of the picture is her sleepin' space. Most of her time is spent hanging out outside under the shade in between.