Archive for February, 2009


Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Music, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on February 27, 2009 by Elephant Talk

It’s always fun to imagine a place you’ve never been, and then go there and see how the two experiences mesh. You read, look at pictures, talk to people. But all of that it someone else’s mind, someone else’s experience.

My prior image of Singapore was that it’s structured, clean, orderly, paranoid, anal, diverse, expensive, and has a lot of great food. It was all of that but not in the way I imagined. And it was definitely not, as I’ve read on more than one occasion, boring. At least my experience wasn’t. But it probably had a lot to do with who I was with. Traveling’s different when you’ve got a native who meets you at your destination. We weren’t so much traveling through as we were being there, and being there in style.

Still, setting aside the knightly treatment, I loved the place. Maybe it’s that I’m older, or maybe it’s that Busan, aside from the well-known touristy areas, lacks a certain aesthetic sensibility. First of all, Singapore is an extremely “green” city. There are signs everywhere almost bragging about its environmental awareness. As busy as it is, the place has done an outstanding job preserving its natural base and making it work with the highly urban superstructure that keeps the whole thing clicking.

It’s a very multicultural place. Coming from Busan, it was wild to see so many sizes, shapes, colors, ethnicities, fashions, and attitudes walking around. The neighborhoods and nightlife are diverse and interesting. One day we did a forest walk along an elevated platform and wound up at a hawker stand, where people sold Indian, Malay, Chinese, Thai, and a bunch of other kinds of food. It was cheap and delicious. Little India was another great place with kickass food, and interesting shops. Then there was the riverside area, where you can walk along the river at night and go past bars and restaurants that open wide to the passing pedestrian traffic. Finally, there was the shopping. I generally hate shopping, especially in Busan where the fashions are either hipster youth or staid golf-playing father of two. But Singapore had so many different kinds of shops, the options were endless.

The best moments are always the unexpected ones, and for me and my troupe, the peak of our Singapore experience came on our final night. We were told of an open mic at the Blue Jazz club, so we made our way down in the hopes of playing. What we found was a tribute to a drummer in the scene who had died a year before on that date. The place was packed with musicians. We didn’t know what to expect, but wow, the calibur of talent was just phenomenal. Throughout the night the stage of this rather humble club cycled through exceptional musician after exceptional musician. I felt like I should have been paying $40 to watch and listen to talent like this. My head was swimming.

Now, I don’t know anything about the Singapore music scene. “Scenes” are kind of nebulous things anyway. Anyone who says the San Francisco scene is this and the Chicago scene is that is speaking from a highly subjective perspective. The value changes depending who’s talking. My scene now is the Busan music scene, which more specifically means the Busan foreigner music scene. At the risk of pissing off any of my friends, the quality of music (from my subjective perspective) is, to use a popular Korean phrase, “so-so.” It really doesn’t matter though, because no one (except one that I know) is trying to make a living out of it. The point is to drink a few beers, gather a crowd, and have a few hours of stupid fun. And in that regard it works. There’s no money involved so there’s no pressure to play particular songs or make the club happy. You can do whatever the fuck you want. I’ve managed to find people I enjoy playing with and play some pretty out-there tunes so I have a good time.

But when I experience something like I did that night at the Blue Jazz, it makes me wonder what it would be like to be a part of something like that. It wasn’t just that they were really, really good. It was that they were all so clearly, visibly enjoying themselves, and seemed to be completely respectful of one another. And there was real diversity: jazz, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, singer-songwriter. I think the diversity of the city was coming through in its musicians. And this might be the other key point. These weren’t foreigners. These were Singaporeans. It felt like the music of a place that has multiculturalism built into its soul. Unlike Busan, there was no attitude, no competitiveness. There was no need. When you’re that good you’re not so sensitive to shit like that.

We did get the chance to play and did three songs. We were the odd set of the night. No one knew us, and we felt a bit like party crashers. But we were also humbled to be a part of it and tried as best we could to live up to the spirit of what was going on that night. After our set, people came up and introduced themselves. We met some of these outstanding players and singers and had a few nice conversations. We were the outsiders and people were being gracious to us, something that I haven’t experienced in quite a while. It was such a great feeling.

Driving back to the house that night, no one said much. But I think we all had the same thought: Yeah, I could live here.


Make in America

Posted in Expat life, Korea, News, Personal, Politics, USA on February 25, 2009 by Elephant Talk

In his speech to congress, when talking about energy, President Barack Obama said:

New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

He meant that that’s a bad thing, that the U.S. should do it instead. Let’s assume for a minute that he’s not only talking about batteries. This is bad news for the ROK, whose economy depends on exports. That economy is now in the tank, with a bunch of suits trying just about everything these days to maintain sanity. In U.S. dollars, I now make $1,200 less per month than I did a year ago at this time. The won is in the crapper. This little comment can’t help me or the ROK.

Other than that, great speech prez!

Winslet’s bloody Oscar

Posted in Film & TV on February 24, 2009 by Elephant Talk

If you haven’t seen the show Extras, it’s a painfully hilarious and truly tasteless show where well-known actors portray themselves as the self-indulgent creatures we suspect they are behind closed doors. Ben Stiller’s guest spot was amazing, but Kate Winslet’s appearance on the debut episode was classic. She finally did get her Oscar, and in a Holocaust film no less…

Kate… you’re brilliant.


Posted in Images, Personal on February 24, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Time for a change of scenery. I was getting tired of all that red space on the right side and I don’t know much HTML, so I just kinda left it. This is more my style anyway.

Not sure about the Malaysian sunset. It may have to go. The color works, but I don’t know, it kinda makes it look like a Christian blog.


Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Sound, Travel, USA on February 24, 2009 by Elephant Talk

So Slumdog Millionaire did what it was supposed to do and won most of the major Academy Awards. Although I find the Oscars to have more or less lost its relevance, I still wanted to see what all the buzz was about, so I tonight I watched the movie.

It was… good. I can see why the Academy loved it. It’s indicative of the film industry’s new interest in globalism and multiculturalism. Maybe it’s upper-class white guilt, maybe it’s sincere, but I feel like the wrong movies are being singled out. Crash, for example, is a piece of shit, a bullhorn continually screaming in your ear, whereas Babel is a beautiful, nuanced meditation on the same subject. The beauty of that film in comparison is that the filmmakers don’t tell you what the point is, they let you come to it yourself.

Slumdog Millionaire is not a piece of shit. It’s good. But something like City of God is far superior. The former tries to be riveting through creative editing (I did really like the editing style) and intense sound design. But the latter is riveting and electric throughout, in what feels like a pure and effortless manner. You are fully invested in this world from the very beginning and it’s breathless until the very end. I think my real problem with SM is that underneath the setting and the style, there’s a very conventional story with little surprise or suspense. Brothers become estranged (one becomes good, the other bad), boy devotes his life to girl and saves her, the good guys find redemption, the hero wins the contest, and they live happily ever after. I saw all of this coming.

Another thing that bothered me is that every stereotype of India was fully on display — not just stereotypes but tourist stereotypes. I’ve been to India and I know all the stories, because what we don’t experience first hand, we read about in Lonely Planet: re-filling water bottles with tap water, kids begging to make money for some abuser, purposeful disfigurement to gain sympathy, fake tour guides, stealing shoes, corrupt police, the train dumping them at the foot of the Taj Mahal for god’s sake. A few I can take but not all of them.

Maybe my microscope is too strong and narrow, given all the great things I’ve heard (the media, but also from friends whose opinions I value). I thought it was well made and had a lot of heart, but it makes me wonder what LA is looking for in the films they choose to celebrate. There seems to be some kind of, not conspiracy, but strange group mindset at work, some sort of social agenda. I’d rather they went back to simply honoring good filmmaking.

Truth be told, I’m just pissed off that The Dark Knight beat out Wall-E for Best Sound Editing. I mean COME ON!

Body language

Posted in Personal on February 21, 2009 by Elephant Talk

This physical therapy stuff is interesting. I’ve never had any kind of therapy, physical, psychological, spiritual… nothing. I was sitting in the Coffee Bean in Haeundae today and my arm started hurting. I thought, man I wish I could see my therapist right now. And it hit me that physical and psychological therapy are probably very similar. The body feels overwhelmed or the brain feels overwhelmed and if you have a therapist, that person clicks on in your mind.

I think it’s also probably the same in this regard: There’s a mystery waiting to be solved. With psychotherapy there’s something deep in the mind that needs to be plumbed, examined, stretched, pulled, revealed, and hopefully healed through mental/communicative investigation. In my case, something is going on deep in my body and my therapist is trying to figure it out through physical/communicative investigation.

For example: This morning she was working on my shoulder and I felt a tingle in my fingers. I told her this and her face changed, kind of like excitement. She quickly shifted her position, lowered my arm, and applied pressure to a different place. Then she asked different questions, like about how I sit in my chair. She also asked if by chance I carry a shoulder bag or backpack. Then I got excited. Why yes, I have a kind of shoulder-backpack and I used to rest it on my left shoulder and carry my computer around. When I told her that, she swung around to my neck and applied pressure there. Then she asked if the opposite shoulder ever hurt. Why yes, actually, for a while both shoulders were hurting, but the pain disappeared in the right and later concentrated significantly in the left.

It sort of went on and on like this, with new revelations. It was really interesting, again like a mystery in the process of being solved. I can’t imagine how she’d know all of this stuff just by poking around my body. That was the impressive part. She seemed to be feeling my physical history, picking up clues, and then moving on.

It kinda makes me wonder what psychotherapy might be like.

Let’s get physical therapy

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Personal, Technology on February 20, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I’m back in Busan, back to a flurry of activity. It’s graduation time, so the streets in my neighborhood were packed with people. Girls giggled with bouquets and boys ran around in fancy black suits. Lunch with co-workers, some administrative stuff about my contract/visa, a few texts and phone calls, lots of hallway conversations.

But the reason I ended my vacation early was to get this rotten shoulder of mine worked on. So first thing in the morning, I went to the hospital to get a more proper diagnosis. This doctor did much more poking and prodding than the one in Malaysia, both physically and verbally. I also showed him my disgusting little elbow trick. When I threw my arm back and it made a loud, multitimbral CRACK the two girls in the room — the nurse and the interpreter — recoiled and yelped. The doctor just laughed, more out of their reaction I think than the sound. Then he kind of nodded, poked around some more, and asked me a lot of questions through the interpreter. He specifically wanted to know more about my drumming.

After all was said and done — I think I’m okay using that cliché in this context — he came up with the same diagnosis as the Langkawi doctor: torn rotator cuff. But he also said I have some unrelated nerve damage that needs to be treated. My drumming and my age have taken their toll. The good news is that both can be treated at the same time with physical therapy. If all goes well, I shouldn’t need surgery.

So right away I was off to PT. I was led by the therapist to a bed behind a curtain. Her English wasn’t great, but we soldiered through. Her: “OK, we’re going to hit.” Me: “Hit? Okay, what do I hit?” Her: “Here, lie down and we hit for 15 minutes.” Me: “Oh, you mean heat. OK.” After 15 minutes with the heating pad she climbed on the bed and twisted my arm around, asking me a bunch of questions and telling me things about my shoulder. I understood about half of what she said and pretended to understand the other half.

Then she hooked me up to a godawful machine — the Neuromed II, model TT-300. She attached five or six cups to all the points where I was hurting. She told me it would give a readout of my nerve activity. If you’ve ever touched an electric fence, the kind that keep cows on a farm from escaping, it was kind of like 20 minutes of that. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not fun. I closed my eyes and imagined that there was some alien creature, made of pure electrical energy, using its fingers as little needles and jolting me with electricity to see how I tick.

She came back and massaged my shoulder in various ways, asking me to tell her when I feel “sick.” It’s kind of an intimate thing, this physical therapy stuff, so we started making small talk — where I work, where she went to school. But she also told me a bit about my body. I’ve got abnormally rounded and unusually muscular shoulders, apparently. I wasn’t sure if that was in relation to Koreans or other waygooks. In terms of the damage, my shoulder is… not separated, but out of balance with my torso, so she was kind of working it back into a comfortable place. She also said that I’ve likely done a lot of damage through drumming and that I should be more careful with my body.

I’ve never had this kind of treatment done, so I don’t know how good it was. But she seemed to really know her stuff, never hurt me once, and appeared to have a good feel for what was going on under all that skin and muscle. That was Day 1. We’ll see how it goes.