Archive for September, 2009

The Uninvited

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, Sound on September 22, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I guess I’m enamored by the dark stuff. I just finished watching a fantastic Korean horror film called The Uninvited. The Korean name is “A Table For Four,” or 4인용 식탕. Adding to the multi-title confusion, there’s also a U.S. film called The Uninvited, a remake of, not this Uninvited, but a different Korean movie, my favorite so far, A Tale Of Two Sisters, or in Korean, 장화, 홍련.

Confused? Nevermind. The point is this Korean movie is called, in the English world, The Uninvited, and it’s outstanding.

Korean horror films are not really horror films. I would call them scary, psychological dramas. What makes U.S. or European horror different from Korean “horror” is that in the former style, the terror exists outside the individual; in the Korean style, the terror resides almost fully inside the mind. This makes it fun because you’re never sure what’s real and what’s imagined. There is no supernatural boogey man out there. What’s out there is the all too natural world, a world that is sometimes cruel and tragic. What’s horrific is how these characters cope when tragedy strikes.

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Trivial pursuits

Posted in Academics, Expat life, Korea, Personal, Travel, USA on September 18, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Trivia seems to be a big thing for foreigners in Korea. A couple of bars have trivia nights and it’s a very popular event. More specifically, trivia seems to be for long-time foreigners who mostly like hanging out with other long-time foreigners and who are married or firmly attached. I suppose it’s the modern-day, younger version of our grandparents’ bingo nights.

I hate trivia. It’s not for the reasons above, although I do not (really) fit the demographic. It’s that it makes me feel stupid. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s putting myself voluntarily into a situation to make me feel dumb as a doorknob. A fairly new friend asked me recently if I have OCD. She noticed how I cleaved my two sunnyside eggs into equal parts to lay them perfectly upon my oval-shaped pieces of toast. Yes, I suppose I do. I thought about this for the rest of the day. Whatever OCD I have it gets stronger the older I get.

Trivia is a form of test-taking, and test-taking is a nightmare for people with OCD, at least in my case. I see a question and I immediately break it down: I look at the phrasing of the question and single out bad word choices or incorrect grammar. I start thinking about the reasons behind the question; is this distinctly American? If the answer isn’t immediately apparent, I go into panic attacks. Should I know this? Do other people know it? Then the real trouble begins — I get paranoid. It’s a trick question. This answer seems likely, but maybe the test-takers are fucking with me. Then I panic. I come to see the wisdom and potential arguments in all (or many) of the possible answers. That’s the point when I give up, stop caring, and just pick something. Usually I get the answer wrong, sometimes even when I know the answer (that trick question mind-fuck). Dammit. Can we talk about this? No, we move on to the next question.

What’s the point of all this? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about going back to grad school to get my PhD. To get into a good graduate school you have to take something called the Graduate Record Examination or GRE. The exam is divided into three parts: a quantitative section (math — primarily algebra, geometry, and word problems), verbal section (vocabulary, reading comprehension), and a writing section (two essays). Each section is timed and the whole thing takes about 3.5 hours to complete. I took the GRE about six years ago before I went to get my Master’s degree. I bombed it of course, except for the writing part. I knew it while I took it, and I hated myself for days afterward.

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Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Personal, Sports, Technology, USA on September 16, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Another September, another NFL season begins. The NFL is one of the very few indulgences that I miss dearly from living in the U.S. It was an important part of my weekend routine: wake up Sunday, make coffee, turn on the 10 am game, relax on the couch, let the caffeine kick in, do some chores around the house as the games continued, etc. Football means nothing to the vast majority of Koreans, who are primarily interested in baseball, with progressively receding (can I say that?) interests in soccer and basketball. When I first got here I couldn’t find it anywhere and lived through highlights.

The next season, last year, I found one place playing games over the internet, but only live. 10 am Sunday Pacific time is 2 am Korea time. That doesn’t work. But when the playoffs rolled around, a brand new foreigner bar in Haeundae got the NFL Sunday Ticket thingy. They broadcast them on a delay, showing Saturday and Sunday games the following night. An ethical code was born: If you know, don’t tell. Simple as that. And it worked. Either everyone averted their eyes from internet news for the whole day, or no one spilled the beans. I saw five playoff games in a crowded bar and didn’t know the outcomes until I watched them unfold on the screen.

As an indication of how quickly things change here, there are now three bars (at least) showing not just playoffs, but regular season games, using the same model. There’s the original in Haeundae (Sunset Lounge) and two in Kyungdae (HQ and Evas, which both opened only a few months ago). All three bars have the NFL Sunday Ticket, which is far from perfect, but for the most part it works.

Eva’s is a great bar with the best pub food in the city, so I went there for the season opener on Friday night (what was in the States the Thursday night game). There was a good crowd and the Steelers won, so I was happy. Monday night I went back at around 7 for the Sunday games. I was the only one there that early, so I got to pick the game: Chicago at Green Bay. At first, it was just me and a bartender girl, who had no clue what was going on. I taught her the best I could in simple English words. Keep the other team out of your area, move into the other team’s area. OK, now that there’s a safety. The quarterback got tackled in his goal. That’s two points. There’s a field goal, that’s three points. See that quarterback for Chicago? He keeps throwing the ball to the other team. That’s bad. What’s second and seven mean? Um… OK, they have to make 10 yards (you know yards? like a meter.) in four plays. Then they get another four chances to make another 10 yards. Oh, OK. I don’t think she got it. But she seemed mildly entertained. Every time there was a close up of a player showboating after a big defensive play she’d laugh and say “So cute,” which, in itself, was cute.

Eventually, toward the end of the game, regulars started flowing into the bar. After Aaron Rogers threw that beautiful bomb to Donald Driver to win the game, we tried to launch another one. But the site stopped working. It refused to load another game. HQ and Sunset have apparently had the same problem. From what I hear demand is higher than bandwidth supply and it’s created a logjam. Making matters worse, doesn’t have any support, so there’s no way to get answers or solutions.

Hopefully things will get worked out, they’ll clear the tubes, and we’ll be able to see all the games we want. It’s still not the same as waking up to morning football. But what I lack in that regard, I gain in the communal aspect of enjoying it at the neighborhood pub with a few friends and regulars.

Go Steelers.

Inertia creeps

Posted in Expat life, Personal, Travel, USA on September 10, 2009 by Elephant Talk

It also freezes, as in the case of this blog. I think my excuse this time is shyness. If the internet is a big party, I feel more content these days to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations than to make any effort to join in. Maybe this is a temporary mood, maybe I’ll kill this bugger off, who knows? For now, I should throw off the dust cover to see if the old girl still runs.

OK, enough metaphors. America was nice. Great to see family, great to see friends, and a fantastic week in Portland. There were quite a few unexpectedly rewarding reconnects this time, with people I haven’t seen in years. For example, hearing from a once close friend: “So that’s my last 10 years, tell me yours.”

This was my third return trip to the States, playing the dutiful expat role and enjoying it for the most part. San Francisco remains the greatest city on Earth. But if I do stay for another year after this, I’m not going back next summer. I need a break. A fourth annual trip seems both excessive and pointless. I realized halfway through that America and all that comes with it is just not that interesting when it’s obligatory. The buzz of returning diminishes more and more with each visit and the whole experience now feels a bit silly. This isn’t a slight to those I love. It’s simply that for me going to the States is not “going home.” Home is my bed, home is a sense of purpose, home is a pattern. Returning to the States is travel, it’s a holiday. And a holiday should be about having new experiences.

Now I’m back, and excited to dig into the new semester. This, more than any other, is my academic year to work hard and weigh what to do next. Things have gotten off to a rocky start and I’m flat-out depressed about the way things have started, truth be told. Well, two things really. One resulting from my own prodigious stupidity, the other from spending too much time trying to squeeze even a few drops of blood from a particular turnip.

Probably not nice to speak of people as though they were vegetables. But that’s all I’ve got right now.

Hey, this was fun. Maybe I’ll do it more often.