Archive for October, 2007

My ears are still ringing

Posted in Expat life, Images, Korea, Music, Personal on October 28, 2007 by Elephant Talk

The weekend is winding down, which means I’m emailing my print needs to my assistant for Monday morning class. Somewhere on campus the Scorps just started rocking and rolling. I decided to pass.

But I did some of my own rocking and rolling on Friday. My new band played it’s first gig. I think we were all a little nervous/uncertain/whatever ahead of time, but it turned out to be a pretty kick-ass show. We had a good crowd and people seemed to enjoy it. I had a blast. It’s been a couple months since I’ve done an actual gig, and even longer (much longer) that I’ve done a first gig with a new band. But I fell right into a groove and I could feel the band doing the same.

Last night Busan was full of Halloween parties. I could have gone to the farther reaches of Middle Earth and made my way to PNU or Haeundae, but my little fellowship of revelers was meeting a friend in KyungSung Dae, so we stayed in The Shire. I don’t think Koreans get the concept of Halloween (yet?). So as a Zombie Medical Technician, Alien Princess (me), Yogurt Kimchee girl, and Toxic Waste Specialist walked down the street, we got some weird stares. But once we went into Ol’55 and Vinyl Underground, we found all the other waygooks dressed just as freaky as we were.

We danced until about 2 am, at which point I gave up and headed for home. I needed the sleep. Wish I had pictures of that night, but I’d forgotten my camera. So here’s a rasta-mannequin-head on a tripod:

So you’d better get out of the weeee!

Posted in Expat life, Images, Korea, Music on October 25, 2007 by Elephant Talk

Wow, the Scorpions are coming to play at our humble little university this Sunday. As professor, I get a 20% discount, but it’s still close to $50 a ticket. I don’t know if I’m willing to pay that much for a little high school nostalgia.

Still, it does promise to be quite a scene. Apparently the Scorps are huge in Korea (I remember also seeing Scorpion T-shirts everywhere in Thailand when I was there a decade or so back). The idea of being among a throng of Koreans screaming along to “Still Loving You” might be too weird to pass up.

I can only hope that Matthias breaks out the yellow spandex jumpsuit again.

So why are you blogging then?

Posted in Academics, Personal on October 22, 2007 by Elephant Talk

I’m coming to the conclusion that I spend too much time having fun. I have ample free time and I’m spending it enjoying myself. I need to do more work. We’ve just finished midterms, and the semester always has a way of zipping by in a flash. And there are things I must do before I leave on Dec. 16. So, here is a completely self-serving to do list:

1. Read. Things I must read before mid-December:
The Order of Things by Michel Foucault
Orality and Literature: The Technologizing of the Word by Walter Ong (reading now, about 50 pages in; I like it.)
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (a gaping chasm in my ‘to-read’ list that must be remedied.)
Audio-vision by Michel Chion (I’ve read it once, then many times later in chunks; I need to go cover to cover again.)

2. Write. I’m presenting part of my thesis in less than two months; I haven’t so much as glanced at my thesis in two years. I need to craft it into a presentation.

3. Write more. I’m supposed to create an departmental “text book” for next semester. This needs to be done before I leave so it can be printed. It should be about 75 pages or so. I’ve written about 6.

When I write blog posts like this, it’s usually driven by some sort of panic. So I guess I’m panicking a bit right now. There’s also a heaping dollop of guilt about living the life of a total hedonist. Time moves so quickly. Time to get serious.

Miffed at piff?

Posted in Expat life, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, PIFF on October 22, 2007 by Elephant Talk

I figured I was done posting about the Pusan International Film Festival, but it seems my impression of it was different from others. Here’s what Variety Asia Online had to say:

“It’s also not a good day to be the Pusan Film Festival. The massive event is winding down and the verdict is: it rained, no one made many deals, the film market was a bust, Ennio Morricone was offended by the way he was treated and left early and too many events were canceled or moved at the last minute.”

I also got a bulk email from one of the festival organizers who acknowledged “criticism” for this years event and apologized for some “certain un-preparedness.” Hmm.

Okay, so I just live here. And I like movies. I don’t do deals or host parties, so I don’t know anything about this stuff. I just had a damn good time.

I did hear through the grapevine that Ennio was not happy with the way he was treated. Some of it seems to be typical press exaggeration. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he was offended. It’s easy to feel that way here if you allow yourself to. Any time someone does or says anything and you have that split-second moment of “wait a minute.. what the heck was that?” it’s one of two things: you actually are being treated with disrespect, or you misunderstood what the real intention was. I get both, sometimes in the same day. But when in doubt, I choose to perceive it as the second thing. I’m probably wrong half the time, but this attitude keeps me sane.

Then again, I’m used to it. And I’m not a legendary film composer.

If only I had my own Babel fish…

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal on October 19, 2007 by Elephant Talk

This is kind of old news, but I’ve quit my Korean classes. It was a minor scandal. As happens occasionally, my seemingly innocent decision to bow out was met with a touch of offense. But I managed to talk things out and (I think) things are okay.

It wasn’t so much the teacher or the class, but rather that the whole thing was in Korean. I mean the whole class; no English was spoken. So I never knew what the topic of the day was and I never knew what I was learning. It felt more like an intermediate class than a beginning class. I was lost and frustrated and not learning much.

I’m thinking of this now because I was talking about this frustration with my assistant a while back. Remembering this conversation, he just now gave me a present: a beginning Korean language book, in English. And this got me thinking about learning languages in general. Korea is, of course, obsessed with English. But ask any foreigner (and many Koreans) and they’ll tell you that the teaching approach is way off. Students learn vocabulary and take tests. What they should learn is conversation and writing. Communication is about interacting using a familiar code; and codes include nuance that can’t be judged in an exam. As a result, students seem terrified of trying because it feels like they’re being graded on precision.

As for learning Korean, there seems to be a focus on small talk. How’s the weather? What’s your favorite color? What does your father do for a living? These are all fine questions, but I’ll never ask them. What I need to know is Who’s in charge? What time is the next bus to Hadong? I’m getting off here but my friend is going to the next block. I guess this all sounds overly practical and cold. Maybe it has something to do with cultural differences. Koreanness is more about getting along and feeling comfortable where as Americanness is more about personal logistics.

I do most of my Korean speaking in two places: in a taxi and at a restaurant. I’ve gotten decent at both (although many times I’ve wondered what exactly will come to my table after I’ve ordered). The reason is that this is where I absolutely must use it. I can’t imagine needing (or even wanting) to recall what my favorite color is in conversation. Thankfully, this book that my assistant just gave me is full of practical stuff. I plan to put it to good use.

Incidentally, sometimes I get into a car with a Korean friend and he’ll have an English language CD playing. I love these because they’re hilarious. “Hey Dan, how’s it going?” “Not bad, Steve. How’s the world treating you?” “Can’t complain.” I don’t know… if my Korean friend ever started talking to me like this I’d ask him if he was feeling all right. I’ve heard others that are better and they get me thinking about the strangeness of the English language. “She sells seashells down by the seashore.” “She sells them.” In the first sentence, the nouns are important so they get the emphasis. In the second, the verb is what’s important. If you emphasized the verb in the first and the object in the second, it sounds funny.

What else? It’s Friday. I’ve got a bit of a cold, but I’m going out anyway. This promises to be a week of stimulating visual illumination fun. Tonight is a laser show on the beach and then tomorrow is the big event: apparently the biggest fireworks display in all of Asia. I’ll be sure to bring the Lumix.

So long PIFF

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Images, Korea, PIFF on October 15, 2007 by Elephant Talk

Some final images of PIFF. First, a wonderfully named production design corporation (Haeundae visitors center):

A TV screen on a mobile ATM trailer. I know, none of those words go together:

The side of a bus outside the Haeundae outdoor theater:

Inside the outdoor theater for The Piano Forest. And this is only one section of the audience:

This has to be the best bass player in Busan. I’ve seen her play before and met her once. She’s about four and a half feet tall but has total command over that bass. She seriously is quite a talent. One of these days we will play together. This was taken at Nampo-dong:

Busan, and all of Korea in fact, is filled with images of happy animals about to be eaten. This pig is sitting in a soup and seems to be thoroughly enjoying his fate:

So long PIFF. It’s been fun getting to know ya. If all goes well, maybe we’ll do it again next year:

PIFF Report: Assembly, Appleseed Ex Machina

Posted in Expat life, Film & TV, Images, Korea, PIFF on October 12, 2007 by Elephant Talk

One of the coolest things about the PIFF festival is that the participating theaters are located in some of the best parts of Busan. So you get to be a bit of a tourist as you check out some really nice films. I’d been to the outdoor theater in Haeundae, and our thriving Shire, KyungSung Dae. Last night I made the journey across town to Nampo-dong, a shopping and restaurant mecca, and home of the Jagalchi Fish Market.

Even though Haeundae is the location of the red carpet ceremony and visitor’s center, Nampo-dong seems more like the center of the action. Or rather, the place where it’s not about the glitz, but is about film. It was definitely festive last night. The place was swarming with cinephiles, there was a band, and one robot.

Here’s Wim Wenders’ handprint in their walk of fame. (I hear Ennio Morricone’s is being added this weekend.)

OK, enough still pictures, on to the moving variety… I saw two films yesterday, with a enough of a gap to have an espresso break in between.

Assembly (dir. Feng Xiaogang)

This was the opening film, and is said to be China’s first blockbuster war movie. I can’t quite describe the plot, because it would ruin the story. But it begins in the later years of the Chinese Civil War and moves through the Korean War and beyond. Naturally, it’s extremely violent and intense. It’s emotionally heavy, but the main character has enough of a sense of humor that we get some light moments in all the darkness. He carries the entire film, and is a magnetic presense from start to finish.

The visual effects were done by a team of Koreans who worked on TaeGukGi, a similarly intense movie about the Korean War that I saw before I moved here. The war choreography was very impressive. Since Saving Private Ryan, the benchmark has changed and to a certain degree we can’t be as shocked by the bleak, frenzied aesthetic we now get in war movies. Our eyes are used to it. But this film had a certain beauty all its own to the shots and the way things were structured and arranged. Not to get overly morbid, but things like blood trails, bullet impacts, and dismemberments had a certain poetry to them, almost like moving paintings. I don’t know, I can’t quite describe it, but it was awe-inspiring.

There was a funny little bit involving a couple of American tanks moving past the Chinese soldiers dressed in captured South Korean uniforms. They start talking in a hilarious Chinese-Korean jibberish that the American soldier of course can’t figure out. I could have been offended if I wanted to. The American actor was a full-on dumb-soldier stereotype, but the audience got a kick out of it, and it was pretty funny.

Appleseed EX MACHINA (dir. Shinji Aramaki)

When this movie started I said to myself “Shit, I’ve seen this already.” But I was thinking of the original Appleseed that came out in 2004. The two main characters are the same. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was an entirely different movie. This sequel is produced by John Woo, and it was cool to get a chance to see it before the official release later this month in Japan.

The setting is your typical post-apocalyptic Earth, but the story worked. There was an odd love triangle, and, of course, a warning for the future—don’t concentrate all your technological power into one place, and don’t get too attached to your toys.

The animation technique was pretty incredible. I don’t know if it was motion capture or not (I suppose I could do a little research were I not so lazy). It’s tough to do 3D character movements. Normally people become these odd bipedal, human-like things that seem to be floating an inch off the ground. But these movements were so human and so natural—people in the background breathed and occasionally relaxed their shoulders… nice touches like that. If it wasn’t motion capture, then they’ve finally gotten it right. And the look was very nice—with a beautiful classic anime look, some truly stunning backgrounds, and not too gaudy or saturated.

And with that, I think my PIFF experience is done. I was planning on going to the closing film, another anime at the outdoor theater, but I can’t brave that mad crowd again. I saw 5 films in all, three dramas and two animes. That’s really not enough—one friend here saw 17 films!—but school obligations kept me from doing more. What I lacked in quantity, I got in quality—all these films were outstanding, and I hope they’re able to get distribution to larger audiences.

And now, it’s Friday night… I’m off to eat BBQ with friends.