Thursday, July 24, 2008

Century-old expat complaints

If you haven't read Roboseyo and Ask A Korean's tag team offering on why expats in Korea complain so much, they're well worth reading. There have been several responses, though I've only had time to read Gord's so far (it takes quite a bit of time to read just those three posts). Needless to say, there's lots to chew on there, and I don't have much to add to those posts at the moment. Ask A Korean brought up the speed at which Korea developed, and being reminded of the dirt-poor old days, I couldn't help but recall the numerous books written by foreigners at the end of the Chosun Dynasty. Most were written by visitors to Korea, though visitors at that time didn't tend to just pop into the country for a week. The majority would spend several weeks or months in Korea, and their responses varied. The long term expats (many of them missionaries) tended to be more generous towards their hosts, and towards other expats (as can be seen even decades later here and here). Here are some of the travelers' complaints from those days:

In the 1894 book Corea of today, George W. Gilmore writes that
An Englishman was once heard to say that the dirtiest man he ever saw was a clean Corean, and visitors to the country would generally agree with him. It can only be said by way of excuse for the people of the peninsula, that their white summer clothing is very easily soiled, while their thick-quilted winter garments are troublesome to wash.
Many of the visitors to Korea did tend to explain the faults they found, though some were more generous than others. In the 1894 book Corea, the hermit nation, William Elliot Griffis writes of the clothing:
Less agreeable is the nearness which dispels illusion. The costume, which seemed snowy at a distance, is seen to be dingy and dirty, owing to an entire ignorance of soap.
Griffis at least displays a sense of humor, such as when he refers to the 1830s voyages of Charles Gutzlaff to Korea (which Gutzlaff wrote about here):
Deeply impressed with their poverty, dirt, love of drink, and degradation, the Protestant, after being nearly a month among the Coreans, left their shores, fully impressed with their need of soap and bibles.
Visitors didn't just complain about personal hygiene, however. In his 1894 book Problems of the Far East: Japan - Korea - China, George Nathaniel Curzon wonders why people would choose to wear hard-to-clean white clothing, and also describs Seoul:
Each street or alley, moreover, has an open gutter running upon either side, and
containing all the refuse of human and animal life. Soul is consequently a noisome and malodorous place ; and exploration among its labyrinthine alleys is as disagreeable to the nostril as it is bewildering to the eye.
Not so different from some expats today, he wasn't a big fan of Korean music:
The national dance, which is performed to the strains of a slow plaintive music evoked by a seated band, is monotonous in character and interminable in length.
Yeah, sometimes it does feel like "Tell Me" goes on forever. Back to the nature of Korean settlements, in her 1897 book The life of Rev. William James Hall, M. D. : medical missionary to the slums of New York, pioneer missionary to Pyong Yang, Korea, Rosetta Sherwood Hall offers a possible reason for the unpleasant character of Korean cities:
Imagine mud-walled hovels with thatched or tiled roofs so low that the eaves are within six feet of the ground, all built with their backs to the street, and with their chimneys pouring out their smoke just on a level with your nose ; the privies, built so that they overhang the ditch at the side of the street, only used by the women, the men and children commonly using the street itself, which is without sidewalks, and is practically but an open sewer, fortunately washed out annually by good Dame Nature at the time of the rainy season. If you can imagine these things, then you have before you a picture of the average street in the capital city of the Hermit Nation. No doubt the seclusion of women, as practiced in Korea, accounts for a great deal of this condition of affairs. Picture to yourself the probable appearance of our own streets if women had not been allowed to appear upon them for the last five hundred years.
Others, such as James Creelman in his 1901 book On the Great Highway, complain about other aspects of their Korean experience:
[T]he Coreans are the emptiest-headed, most childlike, and most generally foolish people among civilized nations. They are the grown-up children of Asia. Their ignorance is not like the ignorance of Central Africa. Hundreds of years ago, they inspired Japan with the love of art, and their literature is as old as Egypt. They are gentle and meditative. Throughout the Corean peninsula, stately quotations from the noblest Chinese odes are painted on the public buildings, in the quaint summer pagodas, and on the walls of dwelling houses. Their very battle flags are inscribed with philosophic sayings. But the Coreans are drugged with abstract scholasticism and demonology. They are credulous almost beyond belief.
In his 1908 book In Korea with Marquis Ito, George Trumbull Ladd said the same thing:
The silliness of mind, the almost hopeless and incurable credulity and absolute absence of sound judgement which characterizes, with exceedingly few exceptions, the political views and actions of even the official and educated class in Korea, was the impression made upon me by this, as by all my experiences during my stay in the land.
While some of these writers, like Creelman or Ladd, were certainly under the influence of the Japanese during (or right after) a war and may have been nudged by them in this direction, it's not so different from blog posts today about, say, "K[orean] Logic." It's worth noting that others, who had spent years in Korea, also wrote in a similar manner. James S. Gale, in a June 29, 1901 Outlook article titled "Unconscious Korea", wrote that
There is no such thing as cause and effect in Korea[...] The Korean might well be placarded the Unconscious Human. Just now round about him are gathering shadows and mutterings, the full import of which he seems to hear not; at any rate which he certainly understands not. He says the graves of his ancestors must be moved to some more propitious place. To this extent only is the national mind alive to the situation.
During the Russo-Japanese War, in early 1904, Jack London arrived in Korea to cover the war for the San Francisco Examiner.

"Seoul - raced horses down this street - Uncle Jack"

London also gives a description of navigating the streets of Seoul which doesn't sound so out of place today:
I navigated the narrow, crowded streets of the capital of Korea. I marvel at it, when I look back upon it - bulls and bullock carts, trains of Korean pack ponies, soldiers afoot and ahorse, a swarm of children, apathetic Koreans too lazy to get out of the way, blocked traffic, jams, plunging and rearing of many horses - most of them stallions, and never a collision.
At times, perhaps, the negative aspects of his experience got the best of him:
[...]the first weeks of a white traveler on Korean soil are anything but pleasant. If he be a man of sensitive organization he will spend most of his time under the compelling sway of two alternating desires. The first is to kill Koreans, the second is to commit suicide."
In his June 1904 essay "The Yellow Peril," London explained why he felt this way:
War is to-day the final arbiter in the affairs of men, and it is as yet the final test of the worthwhile-ness of peoples. Tested thus, the Korean fails. He lacks the nerve to remain when a strange army crosses his land. The few goods and chattels he may have managed to accumulate he puts on his back, along with his doors and windows, and away he heads for his mountain fastnesses. Later he may return, sans goods, chattels, doors, and windows, impelled by insatiable curiosity for a "look see." But it is curiosity merely — a timid, deerlike curiosity. He is prepared to bound away on his long legs at the first hint of danger or trouble. [...]

In many a lonely village not an ounce nor a grain of anything could be brought, and yet there might be standing around scores of white-garmented, stalwart Koreans, smoking yard-long pipes and chattering, chattering — ceaselessly chattering. Love, money, or force could not procure from them a horseshoe or a horseshoe nail.

"Upso," was their invariable reply. "Upso," cursed word, which means "Have not got."
London had a much different view of the Chinese when he crossed the Yalu behind the Japanese army, which goes to show the source of his frustration in Korea:
I rode to the shore, into the village of Kuel-ian-Ching. There were no lounging men smoking long pipes and chattering.[...] Everybody was busy. Men were offering eggs and chickens and fruit for sale upon the street, and bread, as I live, bread in small round loaves or buns. I rode on into the country. Everywhere a toiling population was in evidence. The houses and walls were strong and substantial. Stone and brick replaced the mud walls of the Korean dwellings. Twilight fell and deepened, and still the ploughs went up and down the fields, the sowers following after. Trains of wheelbarrows, heavily loaded, squeaked by, and Pekin carts, drawn by from four to six cows, horses, mules, ponies, or jackasses — cows even with their new-born calves tottering along on puny legs outside the traces. Everybody worked. Everything worked. I saw a man mending the road. I was in China. [...]

The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency — of utter worthlessness. The Chinese is the perfect type of industry. For sheer work no worker in the world can compare with him.
Robert Neff notes in the book Korea Witness that "none of [these other critics] are held in as much contempt by Koreans as Jack London." This surprises me, as there are many reasons why there should be some respect for London here (I'll save those for another post), but one rather important reason would be that there were others who wrote much, much worse things about Korea. At the top of the list would be George Kennan. Kennan had been a critic of Russia's penal system, and when the clash between Japan and Russia began, he naturally sided with Japan. The following paragraph from his October 8, 1904 Outlook article, "The Land of the Morning Calm," reveals that the long term expats tended to be much more understanding of Korea. It also reveals that Kennan shared with London a disdain for the Koreans' "lack of virility" - though that was just one of the things Kennan hated about the country:
American friends who have spent in the peninsula more years than I have weeks tell me that the Korean, as a man, is intelligent, courteous, teachable, kind-hearted and superior in many ways to the Japanese; but in the first place, he impresses me as lacking in virility, and, in the second place, he is so abominably dirty in his personal habits and his environment that I find it almost impossible to credit him with a spark of self-respect. His apologists say that he has been crushed and disheartened by centuries of bad government. This is undoubtedly true, and it accounts for many of his weaknesses and defects; but bad government does not prevent him from cleansing his premises, nor a body of citizens from cleaning up their neighborhood. So far as my limited observation qualifies me to judge, the average town Korean spends more than half his time in idleness, and instead of cleaning up the premises in his long intervals of leisure, he sits contentedly on his threshold and smokes, or lies on the ground and sleeps, with his nose over an open drain from which a turkey-buzzard would fly and a decent pig would turn away in disgust.
Contemptuous as he is, Kennan is also a very descriptive writer, and in his October 22, 1904 Outlook article, "The Capital of Korea" he continues:
[T]he streets of the average Korean village are littered with decaying garbage, or bordered by open drains which have not slope enough to carry away the matter which oozes or is thrown into them, and which consequently are always choked with a rotting mass of semi-liquid filth, disgusting in appearance and sickening to the sense of smell.
Not everyone agreed with this, however. In 1904, Angus Hamilton published a book ("Korea") about Korea, saying “The streets of Seoul are magnificent, spacious, clean, admirably made and well-drained. The narrow, dirty lanes have been widened, gutters have been covered, roadways broadened. Seoul is within measurable distance of becoming the highest, most interesting and cleanest city in the East.” He continued on to say, “Seoul was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone and telegraph systems all at the same time.”

Kennan had apparently read this, and certainly had an opinion about it:
To describe the capital, in a general, sweeping way, as a city of "magnificent, clean, admirably made and well-drained streets," where the air is "clear and sweet," and where "mud and foulness have vanished," seems to me to be inexcusably misleading and grossly inaccurate. The reality is more truthfully set forth in half a dozen doggerel verses composed by a foreign resident of Seoul:

"The houses they live in are mostly of dirt,
With a tumble-down roof made of thatch;
Where soap is unknown, it's safe to assert,
And where vermin in myriads hatch;
The streets are reeking with odors more rife
Than the smell from a hyena's den;
One visit is surely enough for one's life
To that far-away land of Chosen."
Nah, none of this feels like you're reading blog posts from 1904 at all, now does it? Of course, some of these writers were more influential than any expat blogger writing about Korea today. For example, a year later, on October 7, 1905, Kennan would have another article published in Outlook titled "Korea: A Degenerate State," which was to be the first part of a series of articles about Korea. He later received a letter dated October 15, 1905, which referred to him as "an observer whose writings will have weight," and praised what he wrote, saying "I very much like your first article on Korea, in the Outlook". The author of this letter?
U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.

Somehow, I'm going to imagine that not many complaining expats today - in Korea or elsewhere - blogging or posting in forums or otherwise - are getting emails from any president.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sweety vs Poochie

Via Zen Kimchi, I came across this dramabeans post about a new girl group:

Yes, they do look a little young, don't they? This new group, Sweety, has a average age of 10.5. As this article tells us, there's a seven year old, two eleven year-olds, a 12 year-old, a 13 year-old, and three 14 year-olds. Oh, and one boy, a 10 year-old 'rapper'. The article also mentions that this group (created by Basic Entertainment, about whom nothing turns up when you search their name using Naver) may be part of a trend moving towards performers debuting at younger ages. Most of them had appeared on TV (like Star King) or were models already. Of course, what you really want to see is the video, right? Well, maybe not, but it's like a car crash - it's so very, very hard to look away.

Of course, if you gaze into the abyss, etc, etc. There are many ways to respond to this. Some might fear that the apocalypse is upon us, others might give in and embrace it and make the image on this page their new blog banner, others might worry (as Lester Bangs did in his article "James Taylor Marked for Death") that they may end up on television covered in the blood of the producers responsible for this and, staring wild-eyed into the camera, repeating the words, "We did it. We won," over and over again, while some might opt for a Kurtz-ish cry in a whisper at those images, at that vision, 'The horror! The horror!' Not me, though. My (rather cathartic, I think) response was to open Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy" in a new window (the music starts at 1:15 or so) and play the music over the Sweety video. Trust me, it really does take the edge off, and is probably a much more appropriate accompaniment to the images above.

So, okay, it's crap aimed at kids. Which is why the pubescent girls are showing off their legs and (in the video) shoulders, I suppose. I've looked at how much more sexualized the images of the Wondergirls are than previous teen singing groups. In this post I mentioned their newest video, which, with a little editing, may make clearer certain aspects of the video:

Obviously, Sweety is not quite near the level of sexualization we see above, and the video is sickeningly, insipidly cute. Still, the image below goes a little bit beyond being simply 'cute', what with the school uniform-style costumes and rather short skirts, suggesting that, perhaps, the producers might be hoping to have the age crossover potential of the Wondergirls. The marketing aspect of this is interesting, and probably applies to a lot of the manufactured pop groups here. If a group has a large number of performers, hopefully at least one of them will appeal to consumers, in effect making the bullseye much larger. This seems to apply to the music as well, with the mix of pop and rap seemingly designed to draw in fans of both. Note what the kids are doing with their hands in the photos below:

Every possible 'cute' pose appears in these promotional photos, from the hearts to the fingers pointed at their cheek in an 'eoljjang' style to... the 'hip-hop pose' of the boy to the... saluting? It would seem James is right about the degree to which Korean society is influenced by militarism.

Above we have the 'oh my!' pose, blowing kisses and a-ok poses, while below we see a pose more at home in a facial cream advertisement:

The girl above is the pint-sized female rapper, who constantly winks and points at the camera, but in this picture is mixing it up by making a heart.

A - Okay!

The only boy in the group seems to be a pint-sized pimp.

The girl above looks ready to ddong-chim someone, while the other clasps her hand all purity-of-essence style.

Sure, I'm poking fun, but it's worth noting that not only do they have numerous performers of different 'styles', hoping to appeal to as many tastes as possible, they also are sporting as many gestures as possible. Drawn from commercials, eoljjang websites, music videos, and tv shows, they're essentially the visual catchphrases of the moment, and by employing as many of them as possible, the producers are essentially throwing everything that is seen as 'cool' at the wall to see what sticks (and they're not alone in doing this, of course).

In this, the video and promotional photos remind me of Poochie. In the 1997 Simpsons episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", the makers of Itchy and Scratchy decide to add a new character to improve ratings, and end up combining every popular fashion, visual cue, and catchphrase in an attempt to create a popular character.

The clothes and accessories (fanny pack, surfboard, backward baseball cap) mix styles, which is also displayed in the music (the rap can be heard here), while the catchphrases are easily found in the script:

(rapping) The name's Poochie D, And I rock the telly, I'm half Joe Camel, And a third Fonzarelli. I'm the kung fu hippie, From gangsta city, I'm a rappin' surfer, You the fool I pity.

Ooh, Poochie is one outrageous dude.

He's totally in my face.

(playing guitar) Wiggity wiggity, Word up? Rock on party! Catch you on the flip side, dudemeisters. Not!! Hey kids, always recycle... to the extreme!! Bust it!

Viewers hate Poochie, and as Lisa puts it, "Poochie was a soulless by-product of committee thinking. You can't be cool just by spouting off a bunch of worn-out buzzwords."

Of course, Poochie was a child of the '90s, and the episode reminds of the writing found in the Baffler (and collected in 'Commodify Your Dissent'), which examined the way in which the record industry tried to co-opt the indie music scene and market 'alternative' music in the early 1990s. The journal became best known for commenting on this 1992 New York Times article about grunge music, which included a "Lexicon of Grunge" provided by Megan Jasper, a 25-year-old sales representative at Caroline Records in Seattle:

WACK SLACKS: Old ripped jeans

FUZZ: Heavy wool sweaters

PLATS: Platform shoes

KICKERS: Heavy boots


BOUND-AND-HAGGED: Staying home on Friday or Saturday night

SCORE: Great



DISH: Desirable guy


LAMESTAIN: Uncool person

TOM-TOM CLUB: Uncool outsiders

ROCK ON: A happy goodbye

As it turns out, Jasper had made it all up. As this site reveals,
When The Baffler revealed the hoax, the Times demanded an apology from Frank and his fellow editors, but received instead a surly response which read "(W)hen The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that's funny."
If that happened to one of the big three papers here, I'm sure they'd get the GNP to pass a law preventing the Baffler from publishing in some way, much as they're doing to the portals at the moment.

At any rate, if music and its marketing are to be nothing but visual, verbal and musical catchphrases, I don't see a lot of hope for the musical side of the Korea Wave having much long term success with anyone other than the built-in audience of teenage girls that seems to exist for such idol groups.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Aggression and Madness"

Update (here and at bottom):

The Donga Ilbo unsurprisingly argues that netizens are using rumors about Dokdo to try to rekindle the candlelight protests. Something I didn't mention below is that all of the photos of the protest last night show very few 'Dokdo' related signs - most of them are typical candle girl (or boy) posters and anti-LMB posters - suggesting that perhaps the media is making too much of it - for now.

Original post:

So the candlelit protests continued last night at Cheonggye Plaza, but with an additional issue tacked on: Dokdo. Why might that be?
President Lee Myung-bak will recall South Korea's ambassador to Japan Wednesday in protest of Tokyo's decision to define South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo as its territory in guidebooks for history teachers. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan also called in Japanese Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie and delivered a message of protest.

"It is deeply regrettable and disappointing that Tokyo has once again laid claim to Dokdo, which is part of South Korea's territory, historically, geographically and under international laws,'' Lee said. "I will deal sternly with any attempts to ignore Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo.''

Political parties also called for strong action against Japan. In a statement, the governing Grand National Party (GNP) called Japan's claim an "act of aggression and madness.''

The strong words came after Tokyo said it would refer in a middle school teaching guide to the islets as Japanese territory. The document for teachers and textbook publishers is non-binding, but will likely influence textbook contents.

Korea's Ambassador to Japan Kwon Chul-hyun visited the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo in the afternoon to officially protest the "distortion.''
The article has a photo of another protest yesterday, complete with a burning Japanese flag. The protest last night also took place in front of the Japanese Embassy. At any rate, it's nice to Lee Myung-bak announcing that he will "deal sternly" with the Japanese, perhaps announcing his intention to follow in the steps of Roh Moo-hyeon, who declared 'diplomatic war' on Japan back in 2005 when Shimane Prefecture in Japan declared a "Takeshima Day" claiming Dokdo. It certainly helped improve Roh's low approval rating at the time. Dokdo always seems brings out the worst in people. It certainly is not a subject around which much non-emotional debate can be had, as can be seen with the GNP's description of the new education guidelines as an "act of aggression and madness.'' This can spill over into other issues as well (or conjure old controversies out of thin air):

(From here)

The poster on the left says "Dokdo is our land. Daemado is our land." Daemado is the Korean name for Tsushima Island, which played an important role in relations between Japan and Korea in the past, and which, during the Dokdo controversy in 2005, was declared Korean territory by the city of Masan, who decided to have their own Daemado Day, which was not particularly appreciated by Seoul (more information here too). It's much easier to travel to Tsushima from Korea today (which is closer to Tsushima than mainland Japan), though apparently some Korean tourists' antics aren't always appreciated there.

Ah well. At least there will be more chances for nationalist advertising:

I mean, if you can't use an image of a giant Yu Gwan-sun chasing Tokugawa era Japanese sailors away from Dokdo to sell chicken, then what can you use? I'm sure she would appreciate that her sacrifice has been put to good use.

This lengthy article (may freeze firefox) looks at the patriotic bomb throwers of the colonial era who did a bit of property damage and hurt or killed a few people, and at the end we're told ‘Our lives today would be very different if these men had not sacrificed themselves.’ Actually, I doubt they changed much, unlike the peaceful protesters who took part en masse in the Samil Uprising in 1919. The aftermath of the uprising led to the implementation of the cultural policy, while the bomb throwers changed nothing in the events leading up to Korea's liberation at the hands of the allies. I understand that heroes would be made of these men (and other, more famous patriots and assassins), but what was it all for? So they could be used in chicken ads? Perhaps one day the famous photo of the Kwangju Uprising seen here will be used to sell chicken (all you need to do is replace the baton the soldier is holding with a drumstick) - a process perhaps helped along by the Hankyoreh cartoon also displayed in that post. Think of how you could dress up statues: Yi Sun-shin could be holding a bucket of fried chicken, MacArthur could be holding a chicken burger instead of binoculars - the possibilities are endless! And they're about as tasteful as trying to claim Daemado after hundreds of years of Japanese living there.


Or if you call it art and say you're being ironic, then you could have a lot of fun with altering images. I found these in a magazine (I forget its name, but it was well worth browsing through) at Vinyl in Hongdae, and snapped a few pictures. The first photo is of Lee Han-yeol, moments after he was fatally injured by an exploding tear gas cannister on June 9, 1987. To its right is a banner made of that photo. Below is what I took to be an ironic take on the photo, obviously made during or after the 2002 World Cup.

Using a famous image of a tragic moment like this to comment on materialism or nationalism (or whatever you want to make of it), to me, is fine, as long as you're not using it to sell something.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A house built on sand

The Korea Times yesterday published an article titled "Christians Denounce TV Program for Humanizing Jesus"
A television documentary depicting Jesus as a human is drawing sharp criticism from Christian circles. While Christian leaders have called for the cancellation of the program, the TV network's union has vowed to continue the broadcast.

The Christian Council of Korea (CCK), a group of protestant Christians, recently sent a complaint to SBS who aired the first episode of a four-part documentary "Shineui Gil, Inganeui Gil" (The Road of God, the Road of Man) on June 29.

The CCK said: "What the program is trying to say could shake many people's beliefs. It is a violation of individuals rights to have freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution." The group reportedly tried to cancel the show.

The CCK started a hunger strike but halted it several hours later Sunday. The Korean Association of Church Communication said, "We are very anxious that the program is trying to tarnish the honor of Jesus, who is the God of 2 billion people worldwide. We will do whatever we can to stop the devious program."
One more time:
It is a violation of individuals rights to have freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution."
Constitution law scholars each and every one of them. I missed the part where SBS was stopping them from believing whatever they wanted. It's this sentence which really got my attention:
"What the program is trying to say could shake many people's beliefs."
How weak must the foundation of these people's beliefs be if they can be shaken by a documentary?

Feeding U to the dogs

I came across this post recently (which was apparently taken from Ben Eller's website*) from 2002, which talks about anti-American music videos:
Foreigners in Korea have reported shock and outrage over the latest video of S.E.S., Korea's top girl band, in which "arrogant" Americans are fed to dogs, ridden like horses and beaten and thrown off buildings.
Well, obviously, I had to find the video (for a song called "U") to see for myself:

I was thinking at first that this video was a response to the 2002 Olympic 'Ohno speed skating incident', but as it turns out, the S.E.S. album this song is from was released on February 14, while the fateful speed skating race took place a week later. The March 3 entry here (see below) reveals that by that date, the video had already been released, so the 2002 Olympics clearly did not motivate the imagery in the video. This might seem to suggest that the video was drawing on already-existing anti-American feeling, perhaps caused by some of the incidents and political currents described here.

Eller certainly thinks so, saying that "the most shocking thing about the video is that it is mild compared to others that have proceeded it." He mentions the song "In my heart" by 4U, the video for which can be seen here, which shows how two Koreans who love model planes meet in the US, but the girl can't fly because she's married to a scowling older white man, who the Korean man rescues her from. All in all, I don't really see the video to be offensive at all. Insipid, yes, but not offensive. The video for the Position song "I Love You" is more troubling, seeing as every white guy the three nice Korean characters meet is a cowboy hat-wearing thug, a date rapist, or someone who would push an inexperienced Korean skier down a steep hill before he's ready. Of course, the video is set in Whistler, so does that make it anti-Canadian? If so, seeing as the video is three years before English Spectrum-gate, the video makers are true path breakers.

The aforementioned March 3 entry was about "SES & Finkl's return":
SES has also come out a little prior with their album and title song "U". It has an American Pop (Euro Pop) sort of style and their music video is none like any other they had shot. Before, they had shot videos which depicted them as cute, pretty or innocent. However, in this video, they are all confident working women. Eugene is something like a marketing specialist, Shoo is a card dealer, and Bada is a camera director. However, they show their confidence against the ignorance of some men.
Well, Eugene gets pissed because, while she's giving a presentation, none of the men in the boardroom (who are all white) are paying attention to her, and one guy is asleep! And he has his dog next to him! She storms over, slams her papers on the desk, and confronts him.

Next we see the man, clad in bondage gear, chained in a cage, and Eugene struts in with his dog...

and sics it on him.

If this is indeed anti-American, perhaps it could be narrated by a North Korean voice, which B.R. Meyers describes here:
The novel "Barrel of a Gun," for example, released in 2003, is an official "historical" work about how Mr. Kim's iron resolve forced the Clinton administration to its knees in 1998. "Excellency," the American negotiator says at the end of the book, groveling shamelessly before his North Korean counterpart, "you are also a mighty superpower."
"I like the sound of that," the North Korean answers with a chuckle and a sharp look.
Sometimes, it's like the DMZ isn't even there.

That narrative could perhaps also apply to the second story, where Shoo is a card dealer. She deals to some haughty Americans, one of whom blows cigar smoke in his face.

They lose however however, and when they are shown the card that beats them, they are shocked, and the cigar smoker mouths the f-word.

(Keep those dumb faces in mind; they appeared in the first story as well, and appear again). Shoo is then shown riding a mechanical horse, but when she dismounts, we see that the horse is actually the man who blew smoke in her face!

Well, I guess riding a guy like a horse while holding (his?) gun and wearing a satisfied grin is one form of revenge.

Perhaps the producers were confused about what kind of message they were trying to communicate.

Seeing the images of the "man in bondage being attacked by his own dog" and the "mechanical horse with a human head", I can't help but remember this scene from "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance", where a dog with the head of the bad guy is bound to a sled before the main character blows blows his brains out its rectum.

At any rate, the last scene has Bada behind the camera shooting a movie, the only Korean - and woman - in a group of white men. She doesn't like their attitude, so she amazes them by jumping from down from behind the camera and booting the director off the roof.

Note the dumb looks on the faces of the guys above. The face the guy on the right is making looks similar to the expression of the Canadian woman here. At any rate, this post continues:
Both groups have something in common. They both show their feminity more than ever, and their confidence [and are] getting away from their former images of innocence and "cuteness".
She may be correct; maintaining your innocence is often difficult when feeding a bound man to his own dog.

It's interesting watching the dancing in the video. Fully dressed in baggy, white full-length clothing as the S.E.S. members are, their 2002 dancing and costumes just don't compare to the more risque dancing and costumes seen in 2008.

Compare the dancing and clothes in the SES video to the Wondergirls' newest video, "So Hot":

I meant for the GIF below to illustrate this, but for some reason it's not working. Working GIFs can be found at the Grand Narrative here, where James wonders why GIFs of these particular scenes were used to announce their new video. At any rate, when I watched the video to get the above screenshots, I realized that the dance in the first photo (and GIF below) comes off as overly sexualized without the context the music provides. The second photo, on the other hand, of the girls doing synchronized pelvic thrusts, is set to the sound of a breathy "Oh! Oh!" If you looped it, you'd have a porn soundtrack.

So yeah, things have changed in six years, at least as far as how much sexuality can displayed in movies, even those aimed at teenagers (in 2006, Dasepo Girls could portray S&M (in the classroom), pre-op transsexuals, cross dressers, etc), or displayed through dancing in music videos. I don't watch a lot of music videos, but I'd be willing to bet that its mostly female singers whose dancing has become much more suggestive.

Taken at face value, the SES video seems to be about getting revenge on some boorish (white) men and humiliating them, but I think there are other ways to look at this video than just as a representation of Korean anti-Americanism. A very simple question would be: How many working women in Korea interact with foreign bosses, foreign colleagues, or foreign customers? I would imagine that the vast majority of working women never have to deal with foreigners in the workplace. So, for working Korean women (about whom James at the Grand Narrative has written a great deal), who would the sexist or rude bosses, colleagues, or customers really be?

The answer to that is a simple one, but can you imagine the video above with Korean men in those humiliating situations? In 2002? I would imagine mainstream TV would not accept it even now (but I can't be sure because I don't watch TV). Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, or if there are examples of Korean men being humiliated like the foreign men above are. While there are "girls getting revenge on bad men" narratives in, say, the first two Wondergirls videos, the men are not humiliated in the extreme ways seen above. In one video, the Wondergirls use a voodoo doll to make a cheating boyfriend look silly in front of his date:

Voodoo Child(ren)

Another key difference is that the men targeted in the Wondergirls videos are clueless boyfriends, flashers, or schoolyard bullies - not men who are in a position superior to them in their workplace.

So, is the SES video simply influenced by (and reflecting) the anti-Americanism of the time (and perhaps helping fuel it, considering how timely it was, being released just as the "Ohno incident" occurred at the 2002 Olympics)? Is it a video about putting arrogant Americans in their place? Could you analyze it as yet another in the series of rings flowing outward from the pebble dropped in in the pond 1945 when Korea was liberated by outsiders, much as the North Korean text quoted above is?

Is it a good example of the stereotypes that exist of westerners, or at least how they are perceived in the media in Korea?

Or could this be seen as a "liberating" narrative of women standing up to boorish, disrespectful men in positions of power over them and humiliating them or otherwise getting revenge on them and asserting their power. In this case, the use of foreign actors to portray these men acts as the spoonful of sugar which makes the medicine go down because images of Korean men being humiliated would never be approved.

Whatever the answer, what's clear is that, especially in 2002, on TV, Korean men could never have been treated like this, unless it was done with a lot of humor (and probably not even then).
It needs to be asked, of course, why it would be acceptable to portray foreign men the way they are in this video, but not Korean men. Perhaps the answer is as simple as "Because foreigners are not Korean".

If the video is, indeed, anti-American, then it may well be six years ahead of its time. You see, this is the card that Shoo shows to the cigar smoker (before she rides him but after she takes all of his chips):

Not a mad cow, but a mad bull is close enough.

* That post is from Ben Eller's website which looked at the anti-American protests back in 2002. The site is down now, but the main page, his 'Open letter to South Korea', and a letter section are available via Google cache.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Yongsan 'Dreamhub'

After mentioning the plans to build a 'waterfront town' in Yongsan in conjunction with the Han River Renaissance Plan, I saw yesterday that the Joongang Ilbo had printed an AFP article titled "Architects compete for ‘Dreamhub’":
Five of the world’s top architects will compete to develop a master plan for a $28 billion international business hub aimed at transforming the Korean capital, developers said yesterday. Each firm will be paid $1 million for its efforts [to design] the planned 57-hectare development in Yongsan District, close to the city center.

A private consortium including Samsung plans to develop by 2016 the railway and warehouse area into a “Dreamhub” comprised of offices, a hotel, residential units and entertainment and cultural centers. The riverside site will link to a public park to be developed on the site of the current U.S. Army base, which is scheduled to move in two years.

The contract is to design a landmark tower and create a master plan for the development, almost half of which should be parks or roads. Developers and architects said they see the project as a chance to give the architecturally undistinguished city of 14 million [sic] people a new heart.

U.S. firms Asymptote, Jerde, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill are also taking part in the contest, with the winner to be announced in November. Construction work will start in 2011.
Is it just me, or does "almost half of which should be parks or roads" seem a little ambiguous? And I have my doubts that the US military will be moving in 'two years', but I think its good that they plan to link the site to the planned Yongsan park. The Korean language article mentions that the building is to be 620 meters tall. Here's the site:

Since it mentions the riverside, it would seem the apartments in front of the site will be torn down, and the Gangbyeon expressway will likely go underground. Developing this area is not a new idea, mind you:

The rendering above was apparently produced in 2004. Here's a more recent rendering, linked to the Han River Renaissance Plan. You can see the planned ferry terminal.

A similar rendering is here. Here's a later rendering (another angle is here):

As Gord noted, the rendering above "looks like something copied straight off the cover of an old SF pulp mag. Except the silvery "teardrop tower" in the middle would be a rocket ship beside which a buxom blonde would be standing." It would seem the above plan is unlikely to come to pass, what with 5 different architectural firms competing to produce new designs.

Worth keeping in mind is that this is just one of several planned developments in Yongsan-gu. Below you can see that they also plan to develop an area near Seoul Station, the US Base, the Hannam New Town, (part of Itaewon (?)), and another project at far right I know nothing about. If all of these are followed through on, much of Yongsan-gu will be razed in the next 10-20 years.

The three projects that are certain to happen are the Dreamhub, the 'park' on the US base, and the Hannam New Town, and the first two are likely to change central Seoul a great deal.

On a related note, the Singye-dong neighbourhood near Yongsan station had lots of photos taken of it earlier this year (perhaps it's still standing, but is set to be redeveloped. Photos of the area can be seen here, here, or here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Han River 'Renaissance Plan'

Last week the Korea Times talked about all the environmentally friendly bells and whistles going into the development of Magok-dong, which happens to be a very short walk from my house.
Located in Seoul's Gangseo-gu, Magok district is to get an environmentally friendly makeover with a new name (Eco Energy Town of the Future). The district is to transform into an energy efficient zone that'll boast some of the world's best technology.
"Some of the world's best technology" is a phrase that has got to win a prize for its meaninglessness. The article talks about how new heating and air conditioning systems will reduce fuel and energy consumption by 50% and recycle 40% of the area's energy. Still, I have to laugh at the first sentence, because if there's an area in Seoul that doesn't need "an environmentally friendly makeover," it's Magok-dong:

Above you can see the same area in winter, spring, and summer. Magok-dong is the last large piece of undeveloped land in Seoul, and at the moment there are about three square kilometers left to develop. What this article doesn't mention, oddly was that the same day it was published, judges were choosing the final design for a lake park in Magok-dong that will be a part of the Han River Renaissance Project, which was unveiled a year ago:

Oh Se-hoon unveils the plan, July 3, 2007.

A Hankyoreh article looked at the announcement:
Mayor Oh Se-hoon on Tuesday announced a long-term masterplan to transform Seoul into an attractive waterfront city with high-level tourist and transportation facilities. "The Han River is the last place in Seoul without proper development," Oh said in a press briefing. "I will redevelop Seoul into a pleasant and attractive waterfront city centered around the Han River under the 'Han River Renaissance project.'"
Magok, Sangam, Danginni, Yeouido, Yongsan, Heukseok, Jamsil

There's apparently more to the plan than what can be seen above; this map shows that every riverside district (gu) is to get some sort of makeover along the waterfront. This page shows renderings of some of the different proposed redeveloped parks.

The idea of a make-over for the areas along the Han River was already in place before the 'Renaissance Plan', as this September 2006 article shows:
The Jamsu Bridge, on the central section of the Han River, will become a pedestrian walkway from the later half of next year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said yesterday. The change is part of a five-year, 253 billion won ($267 million) urban development plan, which focuses on adding more open space and strengthening the leisure infrastructure along the Han River, which is known chiefly for its crude, concrete embankments and jungles of cookie-cutter buildings.

According to the plans, the city will spend 3.6 billion won to redesign the Jamsu Bridge, which is the lower half of the double-decked Banpo Bridge, as a pedestrian only bridge. Jogging courses and bicycle lanes will also be added. A 2,500 square-meter public park will be built at the southern side of the Jamsu Bridge, equipped with playgrounds and a water garden.

Aside from the Jamsu Bridge, city authorities are planning changes to five other bridges to make crossing easier for pedestrians. Through the end of 2008, the city government plans to remove one car lane from the Yanghwa, Mapo, Hangang, Dongjak and Hannam bridges and convert them into walkways. To improve accessibility, the city will rearrange bus lanes to establish 14 bus stops on each side of the five bridges.
The redesigned Jamsu Bridge (complete with fountains), as well the park south of the bridge, can be seen in this earlier rendering linked to above. As you can see, a man-made island existed in this plan. In late March of this year, an announcement was made that three islands would be built in the same area.

Floating Island will be built on Hangang near Banpo, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced March 28. When completed in September 2009, the Floating Island, composed of three artificial islands, will have facilities for performances and exhibitions as well as festivals and sports and leisure activities. Floating Island boasting an eco-friendly design will be a new Seoul landmark, according to the City. Together with the renovated Jamsu Bridge and Jamsu Fountain, this area will become a tourist destination, the City said.
The islands will be connected to the park and to the Jamsu bridge and lit up with LED lights. The first rendering seen here is a plan for Yongsan, which includes a very tall tower and a canal (to be built on the Korail rail yards near Yongsan station). It's since been redesigned (and will be again, because five architectural firms are competing to design the project, which will be finished in 2016):

Approval has been given to a new super tall skyscraper in Seoul, South Korea. The project which has been undertaken by the Korean Rail Corp will upon completion stand at a healthy 615 metres which would make it the second tallest in the world, after Burj Dubai which standing at 830 metres holds the title at least for now.

The 150 storey tower will be centre-piece in a new international business district which will be close to Yongsan station which is already a central hub for transport with railroads, train depots, a train maintenance centre, logistics centres and a postal office already located there.[...]

If the project is realised, work is expected to start on the tower 2011 and should be completed by 2016. Whether this happens is another thing entirely as South Korea has an almost one hundred percent record of proposing super-tall towers that never get built.
Read the whole article for more information. Worth noting is that the proposed waterfront park in Ichon-dong is, according to the map below, to have green corridors connecting it to the proposed park to be built in Yongsan after the US military leaves the Yongsan base. Note that at the top, Yongsan park is to have a corridor linking it to Namsan.

To the north, as we see here, the Seun Sangga redevelopment is supposed to provide a green axis (below, center) linking Jongmyo (and the palaces and mountains to the North) to Namsan.

Phase 1 of the Seun Sangga Plan

If these plans come to pass (in 15-20 years, I mean!), there will be a green link connecting Jongmyo to and Changgyeongung to the Han River. Of course, the city government has other links in mind for the Han River Renaissance Project.
The most ambitious of the 33 sub-plans of the masterplan calls for restoring the waterway linking the river to the West Sea. Oh said international freight and passenger ships could reach the Chinese port cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Qingdao from the river if the waterway reopens.

There are two ways to link Seoul with the West Sea: One is to follow the natural flow of the river that joins the sea in areas just north of Ganghwa Island. The other is to use 20 kilometers of the "Gyeongin Canal" now under construction to link Seoul with the western port city of Incheon. The construction of the Gyeongin Canal has been suspended since 2003 because of opposition from environmentalists and civic activists.

Seoul also plans to build an international terminal either in Yongsan or Yeouido and excavate the river bottom to create a depth of four meters in the river's main stream. "We believe either way would be possible with cooperation from the central government," he said. "If Seoul becomes an international port city, it would reduce transportation costs and attract more foreign tourists," he said.
For the curious, the incomplete Seoul-Incheon canal runs along the Incheon Airport expressway, and can be seen on Google Maps. It will open onto the Han River north of Gimpo Airport, near where I live. Speaking of where I live, the one Han River Renaissance Project that is to be nearby is, of course, the Magok Waterfront Project. Here is an early rendering of the plan:

Thankfully, this plan did not come to pass, as in November last year, the city created an open competition for designs of the Magok waterfront, which can be seen in a pdf here. I first found out about the competition when Cosma, an architect from Naples, contacted me to ask questions about the Magok area since he had read my blog posts about Magok. I got to meet with him when he came to Korea a few months ago, and had an interesting conversation with him. Unfortunately, his project wasn't chosen, but I wish him best of luck in the future.

Here is the site, as seen in the context of its surroundings.

I've added outlines of other developments in the area - the (almost finished) Balsan Development, the Banghwa New Town, and the proposed Hwagok and Mok-dong New Towns. Give the area 20 years and its only dwellings will be apartment buildings. How thrilling. Here's a closer view of the site:

It was only when I saw this map that I realized they were going to remove part of the sewage treatment plant to make room for the park. Where it says 'Han River', the piles for the Incheon Airport Railway bridge can be seen. Here's a photo of the bridge taken last year from Mt. Gung, where the 600 year old Yangcheon Hyanggyo can be found.

More photos of the construction of the Incheon Airport Line in Magok-dong can be seen here. The pdf I linked to above describes the intention of the Magok Waterfront Project:
Magok is one of six proposed specialized waterfront areas comprising the Han River Renaissance Project, which is considered a priority project of Seoul. The Project aims to transform the overall landscape of the Seoul area by focusing on the development of six special waterfront areas along the Han River, which flows across the heart of the city. As the first of the six, the Magok Waterfront will play an important and symbolic role. The size of the Site of the Waterfront is approximately 1,170,780 square meters.
It also describes how the plans for Magok's development came about:
In 1995, Seoul announced a progressive plan to develop the city’s remaining large scale, undeveloped area, Magok. Under this long-term plan, Magok was to be systemically managed, and development was reserved for a later time so that preparations could be made in advance.

Large scale development projects such as the Balsan Residential Area Development Project, the Banghwa New Town Development Project, the Gimpo Airport Comprehensive Development Project, and the construction of Subway Line No. 9 and the Incheon International Airport Railroad, are currently underway within and around Magok. Due to these rapid changes, there has been growing concern over excessive development of the surrounding areas and the need for systematic management.
The project is to include a lake park and marina opening onto the Han River. Below you can see the Incheon International Airport Railroad (AREX) in yellow and Line 9 in green. The new Magok station will have exits opening onto the site. The blue lines represent the streams flowing through the fields and the reservoir that sits in front of a pump house which faces the Olympic Expressway (for drainage during floods). As for the expressway (and Yangcheon Gil) decisions had to be made whether to create bridges or tunnels to allow the flow of water (or boats, really) into the marina.

There's actually an historical property I knew nothing about within the site, even though I'd seen it many times. It's marked above as the "old pump house."
The former Yangcheon Water Supply Association Drain Pump Station was constructed in the early 20th century.[...] The old drain pump station is drainage facility of the early 20th century that is a registered cultural asset located within the Site. The old drain pump station is highly valued as a modern industrial historical asset. It is a modern structure and the only agriculture related industrial structure in Seoul. The old drain pump station is not currently used for any drainage functions but is used for the repairs of heavy equipment.
Here's what it looked like in the colonial era:

Here's what it looks like now:

If you continue through the bridge seen at left, you arrive at the reservoir, seen below. The bridge (where Yangcheon Gil passes over the stream) is seen at right, and off in the distance at left is the new pump house. The area below is normally swimming (?) with ducks.

The new pump house abuts the Olympic Expressway.

On June 24, the winner of the contest was announced:

The winning project was Kim Gwan-jung's "Heart of Magok is Nature of Living Water". I don't have access to any large images of the plans, but it appears the diagonal raised area will cover much of the existing stream (and perhaps feed it into the reservoir, which still seems to exist in the plan above (though I see no indication of where a new pump house will be). The raised area also separates the marina from the lake park and also likely covers large parts of both AREX and Line 9. It also has chosen tunnels for the expressway and street. I don't see how cyclists and rollerbladers are supposed to deal with the breach in the Han River Park, however.

I'm not exactly sure what the pools at bottom right are supposed to be, as in other renderings they seem to be surrounded by vegetation. I haven't seen many other entries ( a few are here), but I'm pleasantly surprised by the choice made here, because it appears to be very water and nature oriented (though who knows what SH Construction will add when they build it), in stark contrast to the original rendering that accompanied the announcement:

Here are some other images of the winning project:

Will the lake park have swimming pools set out in the middle? That's what it looks like above, but it's hard to be sure. Here's the southern half of the plan:

Construction is to start in July next year and finish in June of 2013. This should make for a nice addition to the area, so I'm thankful for the Han River Renaissance Project, because I don't know if the city would have considered removing a large chunk of the sewage treatment plant to make way for a project this big otherwise. The local paper (Gangseo Magpie News) mentions that canals are going to be made linking the lake park with the rest of Magok-dong. Of course, it'll be 20 to 30 years before all of Magok is developed.