Archive for April, 2008

Probably unrealted links

Posted in Technology on April 28, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I hate to criticize the medium that gives me voice to do so, but WordPress has implemented a new “feature” that is just dumb. Without letting me know, they’ve added a “Possibly Related Links” section at the bottom of each entry. This means, if you post about a certain topic, WordPress will, I guess, scan its database to check blogs they host discussing similar topics. Then it embeds the links into my page.

Reasons this is dumb:

1. It doesn’t work. I posted about a Korean wedding and the links generated had nothing to do with that topic. What’s worse, the links were stupid and seemed to be written by a cadre of caffeinated teenagers.

2. It’s opt-out. I hate opt-out. If you want me to use your feature, give me the option ahead of time. If you can’t do that, at least tell me you’ve added it. I just happened to notice when I was posting a comment on my own site, something I don’t do very often.

3. It’s unnecessary and self-serving. There are ways to search WordPress blogs. But I would guess that WP feels that isn’t good enough, so to generate more traffic for itself it decided to be a little more proactive.

The good news: You can turn it off, which I did.

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This blessed event

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal on April 27, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Yesterday was one of the strangest 24 hours yet of my time here in Korea. I’m still trying to process it all. Unfortunately, I can’t get into the more personal events in an open blog post, but a can share a chunk of that period of time — the wedding itself.

I’d love nothing more than to say the wedding was beautiful event, but to my very American eyes, ears, and heart, it wasn’t. It was… odd. I arrived at the hotel in my new suit and chatted with the groom to help calm his nerves. A little later I talked to the officiator. He’s a professor at my university, so I was asking him a bunch of questions about Korean weddings. At one point he said “Korea is a wedding factory,” and he wasn’t kidding. Weddings cycle through in one-hour shifts. One party files out while the other files in, elbowing past each other in the process. This goes on all day.

I found a spot in the fourth row and the ceremony began. The first odd thing I noticed was that the rows up front weren’t filled. Yet in the back, a swarm of people stood and watched. They didn’t merely watch though, they talked, loudly, throughout the whole thing. Nobody seemed to care. No one turned around. They kept on going, even though you could barely hear the officiator.

So the sonic ambience left something to be desired. What about the visuals? Koreans seem to hold to the concept that the memory outweighs the moment. The videographer went right up to the altar and stood shoulder to shoulder with the officiator, videotaping the couple. He kept moving around getting his perfect shots with zero shame, ignoring the fact that he’s completely ruined my shot, my view of the event. You’ve never heard of zooming? Or discretion? Then there are the people sitting in the rows who feel compelled to stand up and take pictures, blocking the view of everyone else behind them.

With the real-time audiovisual aesthetics ruined, it’s tough to feel the emotion of the corronation. But there were some nice touches: the low bowing to the parents, the three cheers as an expression of love, and the fact that the officiator of a ceremony is very often the bride’s professor. Cool, maybe I’ll get to do one some day.

We stayed around for pictures and then our time was up. Others had to come in for the next hitching. At this point, I’m used to the typical American ceremony where we now go to a reception to dine, toast, dance, stare at the happy couple, etc. There was dining. But it was at a buffet right next to where the wedding took place. It was jam-packed with people. But it wasn’t just the people at our wedding; they were from every wedding in the hotel. I sat with my friends from Serbia, but didn’t see anyone else I knew. Where’s the couple?

There were no toasts, there was no music… I finally had to fight my way through to the other end of the “restaurant” to find the bride and groom and congratulate them. My Serbian friends didn’t last long after that, and neither did I. So I said goodbyes and left. The couple did indeed seem very happy, so that was nice. But for me it lacked a certain personal connection that I usually experience at other weddings.

3 text snapshots

Posted in Academics, Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal on April 23, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Around 7 pm I heard a soft knock on my office door. I opened the door and a girl on the other side jumped. I don’t know why she would be surprised that the knock was answered, but Korean students are a pretty nervous lot anyway. She started speaking really fast.
“No,” I said. “English.”
She exhaled big and rolled her eyes. Then she smiled and cocked her head. “Take your picture?”
“Why?”
“Homework.”

This has happened to me twice now. University students with cameras wanting to take pictures of foreigners. I don’t know what they’re doing with these pictures. I don’t know who’s assigning such homework. I can’t possibly get that far in conversation.

I thought for a second. “OK.”
“Smiiiile!”
Click.
“Anyeonggaseyo.”
“Anyeongigayseyo.”

———-

One of my Korean friends took me out to buy a suit yesterday for a wedding this Saturday. We went to the self-contained megalopolis known as Lotte. When you arrive in the car, they bow and hand you a ticket. When you get to your parking space, they bow and urge you forward. When you go through the front door, they bow and welcome you. They must budget a nice chunk of change for professional greeters.

The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want something shiny. There are way too many shiny suits walking around in this country. I went with something classy. A simple, black, one-button jacket with matching slacks. It retailed for 500,000 won, but with my friend’s discount I got it for 358,000. That included tailoring and delivery.

It was supposed to be delivered today between 2 and 4 pm. It’s now 4:10 pm and it’s not here.

———-

I have a student assistant that I meet with twice a week. She helps me with class stuff and Korean things like the post office and the bank. If I have nothing for her to do, she sits and studies. Yesterday she was studying English.
“What are you learning?”
“Idioms.”
“Ah, idioms. Okay, good.”

At the end of the day I asked her what she learned.
“At all times. In charge of. At no cost.”
“I see. So when you go to work at McDonalds, your boss is in charge of you at all times. And you get fries at no cost.”

She seemed to get a big kick out of that.

Drunken tales vol. ?

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Music, Personal on April 20, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I woke up this morning and laughed. Last night was one of those nights, and it took about a half second of consciousness before I was overcome with the giggles.

We played an interesting gig at the newly remodeled Starface bar on Dalmaji Hill. Second song in, the kick head broke. So we collectively patched it up with duct tape and went back to work. It sounded like crap, but it held up. Other than that, the band sounded good for the most part. We made some very out of character mistakes, but played with good energy. We had heard there was a beach party that same night, so we were worried the club would be dead. But it was packed. Maybe it helped that we put up some cool posters:
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Twitter-style

Posted in Expat life, Music, Personal, Travel, USA on April 15, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Plans are shaping up for a trip to Thailand in early May. It’s children’s day May 5, there’s no class that day, so it’s a good time to go.

The band is suddenly developing a sense of urgency. We only have about three months left in the current configuration, so we want to play as often as possible in as many places as possible.

I’m trying to book a flight to the U.S. for July 16th-ish. I don’t know if it’s fuel costs or broken airplanes, but prices are running about $500 more than they were last year.

I was frantically trying to finish my taxes before realizing that overseas citizens get an automatic 2-month extension. I have nothing to worry about until June 14.

I wish I would have decided to go see Kings of Convenience in Seoul last weekend. It looks/sounds like it was a great show.

I just bought Charlie Sexton’s Cruel and Gentle Things on iTunes. I’m about 26 seconds into it. So far so good.

The weather is beautiful today. Spring is, by far, my favorite season. It brings an underlying feeling of continual newness.

I really, really love my job and my life. Nothings perfect, and it shouldn’t ever be. But being alive is a wonderful thing.

All my senses on overdrive

Posted in Music on April 11, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I’m writing this post to express my sheer joy that Elbow is back to making great music again.

Their debut, Asleep in the Back, is one of my favorite albums of all time. It was a clear nod to Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel art rock, but was groovier than both, with songs that had a strange and magical combination of intimacy and take-flight energy. Their two albums after that were comparatively underwhelming. Cast Of Thousands had couple good songs, but Leaders of the Free World, I’m sorry, was a dog, a sign of a band slowly eroding under its own high expectations.

But their new one, The Seldom Seen Kid is fantastic. I can’t stop playing it. It’s got great pop songs like “The Bones of You” and “Grounds for Divorce” with quieter, cinematic pieces like “Mirrorball” and “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver.” In fact, every song is great. That was the problem with the last two; they were filled with filler. Not so with this one.

Here’s a cool video of the first single “Grounds for Divorce”:

And, for context, “Any Day Now,” the lead-off track from Asleep In The Back:

I hope they know what the frak they’re doing

Posted in Film & TV, Lost on April 11, 2008 by Elephant Talk

It finally happened. Battlestar Galactica has become Lost. I suppose that’s what happens when a formula works. Keep the mystery alive, tease the audience all along the way, twist the frak out of things now and then, even change character motivation. I mean, c’mon, Colonel Tigh?!

We’re all suckers. We love it. We hope it all makes sense somehow. We put faith in the producers and writers. But we’re putty (not to mention commerce) in their hands.

Still, I loved the BSG season opener. Kara was great, the space battles were epic, some nice philosophical conundrums, and they obviously have a lot of story yet to tell. The bummer was no Athena. I don’t care if she is a cylon, I want her to bear my children.