Monday, August 31, 2015

Changwon Meets Berkeley

When I left the school where I taught in Korea back in June of 2014, I gave a small speech to my students that included what has become a life motto of sorts: "This isn't a 'goodbye', but a 'see you later'." I never promised that I'd return to Korea after one year to visit, but then I did. And none of my students promised that they'd come to California, but then one did!

My student JH, who wanted to be called by his English name in my class, is in the middle of his second year at a prestigious science and technology university in Korea, but he decided to spend a semester abroad as an exchange student at UC Berkeley, where I am now doing my graduate studies! This guy is going to become an electrical engineer or have some other kind of brainiac career, but for a few months he is going to study comparative literature, German, and art alongside some of California's brightest students at the world's best public university.

I'm so glad that I've kept in touch with many of my former students through Facebook, because I don't think I would have heard that JH was coming here if I hadn't. But when I did find out, I was ecstatic. I mean, I know it's not easy for Korean students to go abroad: they might have the ambition, but not the requisite English skills or the money to afford it. Most of Changwon Science High School's alumni believe that their earliest chances of coming to the States for their education will be for graduate school or even post-doctoral programs.

But one way or another, JH found himself in sunny California two weeks ago, rode the BART from SFO to Berkeley's campus, and has already had several orientations and three days of classes. I met up with him yesterday and we had a great conversation about all of the bits of culture shock he's experienced so far and what he plans to do during his short stay here.

We had lunch at Bleecker Street Bistro, where he had his first avocado ("It kind of tastes like potato; I like it.") and remarked that the way Americans say "please" and "thank you" all the time was really impressive (I told him we're nothing compared to Canada). In Berkeley, he is amazed by the weather ("I heard that it never rains.") and by the way cars come to full stops to allow pedestrians to cross the street, and he is unsure what to do about panhandlers, since they can be more aggressive here than they are in Korea.

I was excited to hear about his classes and told him I wanted to make sure he had the best semester possible. "I'm not your teacher, anymore," I said, "but I can still help you. Here's my phone number; call or text me if you ever have a problem." When I taught him, JH's English skills were at the top of his class -- discounting his peers who had actually lived abroad in English-speaking countries -- but he still admitted that he felt completely lost during his first comp lit lecture. Well... I'll be honest; I felt the same way in my freshman English seminar way back when. I hope that this is just the first of many ways JH and I can connect in the coming months.

Changwon Science High School meets UC Berkeley! What a fantastic reunion! :)
JH and me in front of Berkeley's famous Sather Gate
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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Until Next Time

I was tempted to make a list of the things I regret not having had time to do during this summer that I've spent in South Korea. But I thought better of it. A more positive use of my time would be to count all my blessings from the past ten weeks, short as they were.
저는 이번 여름을 한국에서 지냈는데 시간이 없어서 못 했던 것에 대해 생각 하고 싶었지만 하지 않기로 했다. 대신, 이 10주간 축복들을 회상하는 건 할 가치 더 있다고 생각한다.

I lived on my own and I learned so much. My understanding of the Korean language and culture have progressed as much as I had anticipated, if not more.
저는 혼자서 살았고 많이 배웠다. 제가 한국말과 한국문화를 이해하기가 생각 만큼 (아니면 생각 보다) 나았다.

I had reunions both planned and unexpected; all brought me joy. I made many new friends from many different countries and reconnected with old ones, too.
친구를 만나는 건 예상한 것도 있고, 우연히 만나는 것도 있고, 다 좋아했다. 여러 나라에서 온 새로운 친구들을 많이 사귀었고 예전의 친구들을 다시 만났다.

I watched a lot of really good movies (and one musical)!
아주 좋은 영화들과 뮤지컬 하나를 봤다!

I explored forests; I climbed mountains; I ran around in rainstorms.
숲을 탐험하고, 산을 올라가고, 소나기에서 뛰어다녔다.

I discovered new and exciting areas of a city I thought I was fairly familiar with.
서울은 제가 잘 알다고 생각 하는데 새롭고 재미있는 지방을 찾았다.

I marched in a parade; I showed my pride; I fell in love.
행진을 하고, 자기 자존심을 표시하고, 사랑에 빠졌다.

I read a lot and wrote a lot (not all of it in this blog).
많이 읽고  많이 썼다.

And for all of these amazing opportunities I think the scholarship I got from school and I thank God from whom all blessings flow.
이렇게 굉장히 좋은 기회에 대해서, 저에게 장학금을 주셔서 대학원을 감사하고, 하나님이 저를 사라해서 축복 너무 많이 주셔서 감사합니다.

Tomorrow, I go back to California for grad school, year two. I don't know when I will come back to Korea. But that's what I said last time, and as it turned out, I was back within a year. So we'll just leave it at that.
내일 저는 캘리포니아에 돌아간다. 언제 다시 한국에 올지 완전히 모른다. 하지만 지난번에 똑 같은 말을 했는데, 결과는 1년만에 다시 왔는 거... 그러면 그냥 기다려 봅시다.

다시 만날 날이 있겠다!

Friday, August 7, 2015

국제 시장 - "Ode to My Father"

In Korean class, we watched a film called "국제 시장". The Korean title translates to "International Market", a reference to the famous traditional marketplace in Busan, but its English title is "Ode to My Father".
"The greatest story of the most ordinary father"
I didn't know too much about the film beforehand, only that it is currently South Korea's second-highest grossing film ever (despite only being released last December). Also, people tend to describe it as South Korea's version of "Forrest Gump". I could certainly see many thematic parallels: both movies follow the life of one man across a backdrop of important national events and tell tales of loss and reconciliation, change versus tradition, and hope amidst terror.

The story is about a man named Deok-soo who, as a child, loses his father and a younger sister during the Hungnam Evacuation (during the Korean War). Along with his other younger siblings and his mother, the family relocates to Busan and struggles to get by even after the armistice, with Deok-soo begging for change and chocolate bars from American GIs after school. Always needing more money to support his family, Deok-soo spends his entire adolescence and early adulthood working odd jobs and even moves to Germany to work in dangerous coal mines. The dramatic and colorful stories from the past are interspersed with scenes in present-day Busan, when Deok-soo is an old man (who speaks with some excellent Busan satoori) reliving his memories one by one.

Everyone says that "Ode to My Father" is a sad movie. While that is certainly true -- I cried more than once -- I think it's more accurate to call it a movie that exemplifies the Korean sentiment known as 한 ("han"). Now, han is hard to explain. According to this article in the Korea Times, it is a "deep-seated sense of grief and grievance [against] very powerful agents of injustice." It is a mixture of sorrow and resentment in response to wrongdoing and manifests itself emotionally in a variety of ways, not just sadness. More peculiarly, however, han can accumulate, both within a person and among a community, or even, as it is most often cited, throughout a nation. Han can become the emotional vehicle for a national lament, and it is this kind of han that "Ode to My Father" so masterfully epitomizes.

Deok-soo as a young beggar boy in 1950's Busan
You see, South Korea possesses a history that bursts at the seams with woe. It may be a developed country today, but for the past seventy years, it has struggled with brutal colonization, abject poverty, a civil war that divided its people, utter dependence on Western nations, and throughout all of this, a sense of shame that it could not provide for its people until it finally pulled itself by its bootstraps into the twenty-first century. Thus, Korea as a nation feels han: because families like Deok-soo's were separated by a war they did not start, because it could not afford to educate all of its children, because young men had to labor and die in far-flung foreign countries in order to make enough money to send home. Every remarkable event in this one character's life was connected in some way to the constant struggle against an invisible -- or perhaps many-headed -- oppressor.

It's no wonder that this film's most ardent fans comprise the generation that lived through all of these atrocities. Korean 할머니 and 할아버지 (grandmothers and grandfathers) now in their seventies and eighties, as well people who grew up in the tumultuous decades following the Korean war, really drove the tickets sales that boosted its ranking. It's said that the older generations watched and rewatched the movie not just to experience the catharsis that came with two hours of nonstop han, but also because of 그리움 ("keulium"), or nostalgia. Despite the bleakness of the characters' lives in the movie, there are small moments of joy and a dogged determination to hold on to the past.

Deok-soo dancing with his first love in 1960s Germany
For example, although Deok-soo's life in Germany is almost literally a hellhole (for twelve hours a day, at least), he still gets to meet the love of his life, a Korean nursing student at the local hospital named Young-ja. There's a sense in their scenes together that the wonders of youth and infatuation can make months of eating stale bread while covered head to toe in coal dust worthwhile. And as the present-day Deok-soo continuously refuses to sell the humble imported goods shop he inherited from his aunt, we see a familiar narrative: the small business owner in conflict with with impertinent developers who only want high-rises and care nothing for tradition.

It is in this area, however, that one might be able to pick at a weakness in the film, namely the way it has whitewashed or wholly ignored certain parts of Korean history, under the guise of patriotism. This is a tricky issue to handle, because the director, Yoon Je-kyoon, has already stated that the film has no political aims or undertones. However, it isn't possible to create a movie meant to inspire a love of country without at least passively taking a stand on certain very unlovable things about Korea's recent past. Even I noticed the lack of any mention of the huge political unrest during the early 80s. And while Forrest Gump got to meet US Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, Deok-soo doesn't even brush the collar (옷깃만을 스쳐도 인연이다!) of any of his country's leaders, whose regimes were often dictatorial, and the absence is more than a bit conspicuous.

This excerpt from an LA Times review brings up another point I wanted to make: Lee Taek-kwang, a professor at Kyunghee University in Seoul, [says] that "Ode" reflects the conservative ideology that for many years exhorted South Koreans to forego individual rights in the name of national development. Referring to one scene in "Ode" where Duk-soo shuns a discussion with his wife to stand at attention for the national anthem, Lee told the Kyunghyang that "Ode" "effectively endorses the idea that the state can exploit its people."

At first I found the aforementioned scene to be funny, but after a moment's thought, I realized that it was actually convicting. The film's protagonist is endearing and the sacrifices he makes for his family are awfully inspiring, yet a close scrutiny of his life and ideology from another angle reveals that he is no more than the model citizen that an autocratic, brutally capitalist government wants. Although Deok-soo ostensibly joined the Korean forces in Vietnam because he needed money to help his family, the narrative is structured such that it is his patriotism that brings him back to the battlefield. He is not a powerless refugee, but a savior to the people fleeing war, as he did when he was a child; and there is a hefty message in that.

Yoon created "Ode to My Father" as a dedication to his actual father, who died when the director was in film school. He claims that he wanted to help Korea's younger generation understand the tribulations that their parents and grandparents had to endure to help bring the country to where it stands proudly today. In this sense, he has certainly created a masterpiece tear-jerker that drives the point home. A simple scene in which Deok-soo pens a letter from Vietnam to his wife really struck my heart: in it, he wrote, "It’s such a relief that it was us, and not our children, who were born during such a difficult time," and Young-ja sobbed on the floor of her home while I cried silently in my seat. The singular thought that filled my mind as I walked home that day was, "How little I know about what life was like for my father and grandfather and their generations! How scarcely I've asked them about their past sufferings!"

I wonder, often, how much today's young Koreans, including those in this country and in the global Korean diaspora, understand the concept of han. It's supposed to be a national sentiment, so can someone outside the country's borders carry it? Or is it solely the ethnic connection, which even a child adopted from Korean is meant to be able to feel because of the blood that runs through their veins? Or both? (I am certain the director intended both.) So then what about a random non-Korean American like me, who has learned about Korean history and spent a good chunk of his adult life living here? When my soul hurts with compassion and sorrow from watching a movie like "Ode to My Father", I don't know if I can call that emotion han. I have built jeong () with many Korean people, some of whom feel like family, but does that make me a part of the in-group? Can han be learned or appropriated? Tough, abstract questions, these...

But I can say at least that watching this film has not only given me a better perspective on the historical context that grounds both Korean ipseity and collective identity, but also enlightened for me parts of the unique debate over how this identity ought to be preserved and represented now and in the future. Besides all of this, "Ode to My Father" is a beautiful and satisfying film, so I highly recommend it.

- - -

P.S. There is a very cool story about the casting of one of the actors in the film. I vaguely recognized her when she first appeared on-screen, but I never would have guessed exactly where I'd first seen her. But after I read an article about how she was cast, I was extremely surprised! You can read the article here, but I warn you that there are major plot spoilers in it. So if you plan to watch "Ode to My Father" but haven't yet, save this article until afterward. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Gay Christian Debate

The Gay Christian Debate
July 25th, 2015

"Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?"

Last Saturday evening, a public debate was held at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, Seoul, between Pastor Paul Warren from Sojourn Fellowship (Incheon) and Reverend Daniel Payne from Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church (Seoul), with moderation by Calon Webb. The topic of the debate was the position of the Bible on homosexuality. This topic has undeniably come under close scrutiny in recent months in South Korea, as the tension has mounted between some vocal conservative Christian groups and the country's LGBTQ community, especially after this year's Korea Queer Culture Festival on June 28th.

I attended the debate and took six pages of notes over the course of the 2.5-hour event. The purpose of this post is to recap the main points made by each pastor as succinctly as possible, and I will add some of my own thoughts at the end. The debate was conducted in English, and it was videotaped, so that a recording with Korean subtitles can be made available online in the near future.

Both pastors were allowed a twenty-minute opening statement. Reverend Daniel (henceforth DP), who takes an affirming position on homosexuality (i.e. the Bible does not condemn it), began by stating that both he and Pastor Paul (henceforth PW) approached the question under the assumption that the Christian Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God, and thus that whatever the Scripture says and means should be followed by professing Christians. DP stated that the Bible is a very complicated book; it has historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts that must be understood. And homosexuality in its modern, twenty-first century context is different from homosexuality as addressed in the six most-cited "anti-gay" passages of the Bible. For example, the sin of Sodom was the sin of inhospitality, not homosexuality per se; also, the Levitical laws against homosexuality were a reference to pagan ritualistic temple prostitution. In these passages and in others, DP stated that homosexual activity of a very specific sort was condemned, but not committed homosexual relationships of the kind we may find today.

PW's opening statement led with the idea of a "back to Creation" ethic of sexuality that could be identified as a common theme throughout the entire Bible. For example, the account of the creation of the world in Genesis highlights the importance of male and female complementarity as part of God's design for humankind, and Jesus' teachings on marriage in the Gospels upholds this. PW countered DP's interpretations of the Sodom and Gomorrah story and the Levitical laws by insisting on no ambiguity in the wordings of what was the sin in question, and similarly challenged DP's explanations of certain Greek words used by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the early church.

Each pastor was then given ten minutes for a rebuttal. DP clarified that the Bible does clearly bless heterosexual relationships and marriage, but is merely silent on the issue of their modern homosexual counterparts. The Bible's sayings regarding marriage should be taken as a descriptive account of the cultural context, but not a proscriptive set of unalterable rules. PW re-emphasized that the descriptions of sins in the Bible were, when taken at face value, inclusive of any kind of homosexuality, and also added that the Bible in its entirety, and the direction it appears to point toward, should be considered in cases of modern issues like same-sex marriage.

Following the rebuttals, DP was allowed to ask PW specific questions in a cross-examination format, followed by the reverse. There was discussion of the meaning of the word "abomination" as found in Leviticus and the case of eunuchs mentioned in the New Testament. Most relevantly, PW reiterated that the Apostle Paul should have been aware of consensual adult homosexual relationships (from ancient Greek writings), so what kinds of relationships that are under question today are not actually new. And DP was asked to define a Biblically-based sexual ethic, so he referenced a passage in the book of Galatians that identifies godly actions and relationships as those that might produce "spiritual fruits", which does not restrict the relationships by gender or orientation.

After a short break, the members of the audience (totaling about fifty) were asked to submit questions to the two pastors. They were asked to clarify issues such as the Bible's stance on lesbianism, transgender people and relationships, and the literality of the Biblical ordinance to "be fruitful and multiply" (i.e. have children), among others.

Actually, the question I submitted was selected by the moderator, and I'd like to share it. I addressed my question specifically to Pastor Paul: "There are LGBTQ Christians in our churches. How do we include them in the church community without relegating them to a second-tier class of believers?" I asked this because I believe that regardless of what any church's official position on homosexuality is, the fact is that LGBTQ people exist and some want to be a part of the community; yet too often the solution is to allow LGBTQ Christians to be members but prohibit them from marrying or taking on leadership positions -- in other words, they are discriminated against. PW's response was, "We don't want to kick anybody out or say that anyone is less. Some might advocate celibacy for LGBTQ Christians. But according to the Bible, there are no second-tier believers; believing and repentance always go together." DP's response was rather pointed: "Your implication is that if I am in a gay relationship, then I can't be a true Christian. The traditional side can't truly love LGBTQ people who are in relationships, despite their intentions, from this point of view. The sad thing is that I've experienced, in Korea, young queer Christians who have ended their lives because of the church's traditional teaching."

It became a little bit personal at this point, but otherwise, the debate was completely civil. There were more audience-submitted questions about the importance of procreation, how an LGBTQ individual should deal with an unaccepting Christian family, how Biblical interpretation has changed through history, and whether or not God hates gays. In closing, each pastor was given ten minutes for a closing statement. Both of them used their time to cite certain eminent Biblical scholars from both pro-gay and anti-gay sides who interpreted the six most relevant Biblical passages in different ways. DP's closing remark: "The church has changed its mind about slavery, an institution undoubtedly supported by the Bible, and hopefully in the future it can do the same about homosexuality." PW's closing remark: "Sin should not prevent us from being Christian. The struggle we all have with sin is guaranteed. I welcome you all to take up your crosses to follow Jesus."

- - -

The debate ended with an audience poll on whether they thought the Bible condemned homosexuality or not. I was not counting the hands raised, but it seemed that all three times the poll was conducted (before the debate, in the middle, and at the end), the audience was split about three ways between Yes, No, and Decline to Respond. There was mingling afterward, and then a large contingent went out to eat a late dinner (including both pastors). All in all, I enjoyed the debate for the intellectual stimulation, and I learned a few new things. (As a religion major in undergrad, I have already read quite a bit on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality, but there is always more to discover.)

I realized that the event was certainly catered toward English-speakers, and thus the handful of non-English-speaking Koreans in the audience may have felt somewhat lost during the debate. Also, there were no references to the current same-sex marriage debate in Korea. But the video is now available on YouTube (click here!) and the Korean translation are being worked on, so when those are made available, I will edit this post to include them. To be perfectly honest, the Gay Debate has been going on for decades in the US and in Western Christianity, but in Korea and the rest of Asia it has only just begun, so in my opinion, this kind of exchange ideas needs to happen in Korean, and soon.

Lastly, I am fully aware that this blog post left out huge chunks of the debate -- I'm especially sorry that I could not include full discussions of the excellent audience questions at the end -- but if you are curious to know more about what was said, leave a comment! I would be happy to send you my six pages of notes...

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P.S. I should also put in a plug for Open Doors, the church that I have been attending this summer. It is a gay-affirming church affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church denomination and offers a weekly Sunday service in English with Korean translations, located in Itaewon. Any Koreans or foreigners in Seoul are welcome to attend, regardless of religious background, sexual/gender identity, or interest in Christianity! Haha. I've learned some good stuff here in the past few weeks and made new friends; I will be sorry to leave in August.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

인자와 겸손

"사람아 주께서 선한 것이 무엇임을 네게 보이셨나니 여호와께서 네게 구하시는 것이 오직 공의를 행하며 인자를 사랑하며 겸손히 네 하나님과 함께 행하는 것이 아니냐?" - 미가 6:8

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

This particular Bible verse has been on my mind a lot recently. In context, the book of Micah is a collection of sayings by its eponymous prophet that detail God's judgment against Israel and other nations but also provide glimpses of hope for a better future. In this chapter, God is telling Israel, through his prophet, that what they need to do in order to get back into his good graces is not more burnt sacrifices or physical offerings, but three simple (yet also extraordinarily difficult) actions: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

공의를 행하며, 인자를 사랑하며, 겸손히 행하는 것이다.

I can understand where a lot of Christians are coming from when they point out sin and moral corruption in our society and generation. To stop wrongdoing from occurring by publicly calling it out looks like an act of justice. This is, after all, what prophets are best known for doing.

But that is only one-third of what the Lord requires of us, isn't it? All the protest and castigation directed toward sinners sounds less like justice and more like direct hatred when it is delivered with mercy or humility. I think this must be because it's so easy to nest in one's own moral high ground, and because it feels so good to be "in the right".

Indeed, mercy and humility are not easy virtues to carry. It's not comfortable to identify our own privilege and admit that we might have an unfair advantage over people we'd rather dismiss as lazy or sinful. It's difficult to look at something we believe is wrong and consider that we ourselves might be wrong. And it's nearly impossible to judge ourselves by the same standard by which we judge others.

As hard as it is to carry out these three simple tasks God requires, I don't think it is actually beyond any of us. A sermon preached at church a few weeks ago highlighted something that I've heard hundreds of times before but only recently began to see in a fresh and relevant light: "Change is brought about by everyday people."

평범한 사람이 변화를 가지고 오다.

This applies to the prophets of ancient Israel, and to most of the major "heroes" of the Bible. They were ordinary people. Sinful people. People who probably wouldn't have chosen the adventures they are now known for had they had the choice. Sometimes, prophets came from great lineage, and sometimes they were plucked out of an orchard randomly to deliver an important message.

If ordinary people could, in the Bible and in history, become vessels of such great importance, why not now? God doesn't require us to be financially successful, famous, or socially influential. Actually, all he requires is justice, mercy, and humility. 공의, 인자, 겸손.

Anyway, I didn't think I'd be gaining any major spiritual insights while spending a short summer in Korea, but as it turns out, I don't get to decide when God wants to tell me something, so I thought I'd share. Hopefully it can be a bit of encouragement to anybody who is fighting for social justice, anybody who finds themselves targeted by overwhelmingly "justice-happy" Christians, or anybody who considers themselves ordinary but still wants to let God do cool things in their lives.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

North Korean - South Korean translator app

It should surprise nobody by now that the languages spoken in North Korea and South Korea are not the same. The two countries have been geographically separated for decades, with no free communication allowed across the border between them. In addition to that, North Korea's government initiated purges of the language long ago to get rid of foreign words or borrowings (from English, Chinese, or Japanese) and replace them with pure Korean translations. As a result, while South Koreans might want to eat 아이스크림 ("ice cream", transliterated) on a hot summer day, a North Korean will dream instead of 얼음과자 ("ice snack").

When I visited North Korea last year, I found myself unable to understand much of the Korean that I heard being spoken. Of course, my Korean listening comprehension level is fairly low, but it wasn't just me -- even the Korean-Americans in my tour group who were fluent in (South) Korean had some difficulties. Most of it was due to the differences in vocabulary, but there was also the intonation of North Korean, which would have been considered a mere dialectal difference back when Korea was unified, but is now one of the markers of the two languages' divergence. (The line between "language" and "dialect" is a fairly blurry one, even for linguists.)

Anyway, when I came across this advertisement/PSA for a new app called 글동무 ("classmate"). I like the name -- the whole phrase means "classmate", which directly references the app's usefulness for North Korean students struggling to keep up in South Korean classrooms, and encourages a camaraderie among youth. Also, the first word (글) on its own means "writing" or "knowledge". The second part (동무) on its own can also mean "comrade", but I don't think that was intentional.

I have taught camps and tutored students from North Korea in South Korea before, and I can say that an app like this would be very helpful for most of them. (For others, especially younger students who basically grew up in China while their families were in hiding, it would perhaps be less useful than a Chinese-Korean dictionary, but those already exist.)

And in addition to the app's usefulness, its beautiful, simple design and hi-tech programming (it can use the phone's camera to identify unknown words automatically and offer translations immediately) are really compelling. This amazing app is the brainchild of linguists, computer programmers, and sociologists who saw a need in South Korea and came up with an elegant solution. I hope that the work I will do in the future can be as beneficial as this!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Korean Hip Hop Dance Crew Just Jerk

Hat tip to Glen for sending along this amazing hip hop dance piece by the Korean dance crew Just Jerk. 정말 대단한다고 생각합니다. I'm not usually a big fan of hip hop, but this performance is mesmerizing and, interestingly enough, not exactly immediately identifiable as hip hop. It's actually a fantastic tribute to more traditional Korean dance and music styles. How so?

First of all, three of the four songs come from the soundtracks to movies and dramas set during the Joseon Dynasty (the fourth is a hip hop piece by a Korean artist), and secondly, the costumes are obviously inspired by traditional Korean costumes. For the first half of the performance, the dancers are wearing masks, which makes me think of Korean masked dances, broadly known as 탈춤 (talchum). These kinds of dances always tell a dramatic tale, and similarly, I can see how this piece by Just Jerk has a musical arc and a sort of choreographed story.

It's pretty common knowledge by now that the South Korean 힙합 (hip hop) and 비보잉 (b-boying/breakdancing) scenes are huge, and that Korean b-boy crews win international competitions. There must be something in the water here... although one of my Korean instructors once tried to explain that this American genre's popularity in Korea was due in part to the fact that dance circles and community performance aspect of b-boying were similar to Korean folk dancing styles like 풍물 (pungmul) or 농악 (nongak). I don't quite buy it, but all the same, performances like the one I've shared above do in fact do a wonderful job in connecting the traditional with the young and modern.

Speaking of young, I checked out Just Jerk's Facebook page, and boy, they all look fresh out of college, or maybe even younger. 수준이 아주 높고 타고난 소질이 있는 듯! Also, as I scrolled down their wall, I was really surprised to see that they have toured internationally to do workshops, and one of their recent locations was UC Berkeley! How cool. Cal's huge dance community is always holding workshops, but I didn't know they brought people in from as far away as Korea. 미래에 JJㄴㄴ캘리포니아에 투어 하려고 다시 오고, 저는 공연을 볼 수 있으면 좋겠습니다!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Konglish Jokes

I made up some Konglish jokes. They will only be funny if you understand and can read a bit of Korean, and also if your standard for humor is extremely low. I have been testing these on my classmates for the past week and they all want me to shut up. :)

1. What country do all the dogs come from?

2. What did the annoyed mother tell her annoying baby?

3. What is a shepherd's favorite number?

4. Looking at a map of Asia, if China is a dragon, what is 한국?

5. What do people get at the post office every day?

6. How does a cow apologize?
소 소리

7. What does oil do to bugs when you fry them in it?

8. What hairstyle do you get if you want to look like the US President?

9. Where do you go if you want to put a new building in the middle of Busan?

10. What do you call a movie about rice cakes?

Extra credit! A Japanese joke: What did the one cat say to the other after it took its food?
내 거!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Chance Run-In at a Baseball Game

Nexen Heroes (Seoul) vs. NC Dinos (Changwon) at the Mokdong Baseball Stadium, Nexen's home base.
Last weekend, one of my classmates invited me to a baseball game in Seoul. She's a fan of Seoul's team, the Nexen Heroes, and she knew that I was a fan of Changwon's team, the NC Dinos1. We went with other exchange students as well as my friend's homestay family, which included a teenage son, SW, who is crazy about baseball! All of us got seats in a section of the stadium heavy with Nexen fans, and SW was very enthusiastically using his pink thunder sticks to cheer on his team, so much that his parents kept telling him to sit down and be quieter.

Unfortunately for SW, the Nexen Heroes suffered a devastating (and, to be honest, embarrassing) loss against the NC Dinos, who are one of the best teams in the league this year despite being only two years old. The NC Dinos were leading by a few runs in every inning, which I pointed out gleefully to my rather disgruntled classmate. I took a quick selfie and posted it to Facebook, with the caption, "서울에서 넥센과 NC 다이노스 야구 경기를 보는데 다이노스를 혼자 응원해서 좀 쓸쓸하다 ㅋㅋ" (I'm watching a Nexen/NC baseball game in Seoul, but because I'm the only Dinos fan [in this section], it's kind of lonely, lol).

Then, in the sixth inning, something happened that made the Heroes commit error after error after error... maybe it was the fact that it had begun to drizzle? In any case, the Dinos were able to score ten runs at the top of the sixth, bringing the score to 16-5. Ten runs. What baseball team can score ten runs in a single inning?! The scoreboard couldn't even show double digits for runs, so after the tenth run, the numeral "9" was changed to an "A".

I stopped goading my classmate after that because I felt bad about how my team was trampling hers underfoot. Poor SW resorted to praying for a miracle beside me. On the other side of the stadium, however, the devout NC fans were singing and having a whopping good time. I have always been impressed with NC's fans -- I was once told that the Changwon team's fans all had to jump ship from the Busan team (Lotte Giants) when the Dinos were formed in 2012, and then they worked extra hard to build up their fan base in opposition to their neighboring city. As a result, the NC Dinos fans are among the most ardent in the country. I mean, this was a game held in Seoul (5 hours from Changwon), yet enough fans showed up in their section to hold their own against a stadium full of Nexen supporters and their sound systems, mascots, and cheerleaders.

One of my former students (from Changwon Science High School) is one of these die-hard Dinos fans. How did I find this out? Well, it was quite an unexpected and serendipitous meeting. Shortly after I posted the aforementioned photo to Facebook, she saw it pop up on her Facebook newsfeed. (We weren't friends on Facebook, but another one of my former students Liked the photo, and she saw that.) Realizing that we were both at the same game, she walked over to the other side of the stadium, judging by the background she could see in the photo, and then found me!

I was extremely taken aback when I saw her. This is a student who graduated in fall of 2012. I had only taught her for one semester and hadn't seen her (online or anywhere) for two and a half years! The first thing she said to me was (in Korean): "Teacher! Do you remember me?" It took me a moment because her hairstyle was different, and she definitely looked like a third-year college student, not a high schooler. But I remembered her name. In fact, I remember the exact conversation we had, nearly three years ago, when she explained why her name was rather unique among Koreans because it came from a native Korean word that had no hanja (Chinese character) counterpart -- her name means "sunset"2.

When I told her that I remembered her, she was so happy she didn't even know what to say next. Also, as it turned out, she hadn't kept up with her English studies, so she was very much speechless. She told me that she loved the Dinos and was even wearing a jersey that had been signed by the team. I was just amazed at this coincidental reunion. I wished my student best of luck in school, told her that we ought to meet up again sometime, and took another selfie before she went back to join her fellow fans. Later, during that improbable sixth inning, I texted her, saying, "WE'RE WINNING!" and she replied, in English, "Perfect!" plus a lot of emojis.

You know, I can't remember all of my former student's names. I can't even remember all of my current Korean friends' names -- it's just harder for me to mentally store and retrieve Korean names, compared to English ones. But I will never forget a student's face. And I'm glad my student didn't forget mine.

That night, I was thrilled that my team won, but what really made my day had nothing to do with the game at all. It had something to do, I believe, with the sunset.

- - -
1In Korea, professional sports teams are literally named after their corporate sponsors. Nexen Tire Corporation is a Korean tire manufacturing company. Its name is a portmanteau of "next century". The NC Dinos are owned by NCSOFT, a video game development company. Thus, I know many names of Korean sports teams, but I rarely know what city they are meant to represent.

2Okay, her name doesn't actually mean sunset. It actually refers to the glow of the sun at sunset or sunrise, which is... what, Rayleigh scattering? Or just... red sky (in the morning, sailors take warning...)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Legal Battle for Marriage Equality in Korea

The year 2015 has seen marriage equality (legalization of marriage between two men or two women, also known as gay marriage or same-sex marriage) coming into effect in Ireland by popular vote and in the United States by Supreme Court ruling. Now, the stage has been set for Korea's own legal showdown, as a well-known gay couple has filed a lawsuit against the district office that denied them a marriage license in 2013.

Kim Jho Gwang-soo, a film director perhaps best known for his feature film Two Weddings and a Funeral as well as his LGBTQ activism, and his partner Kim Seung-hwan (David Kim), have found themselves at the forefront of the battle for sexual minorities' equal rights, at least in terms of media focus.

The following is my translation of the first few paragraphs from a Daum News article:

On the afternoon of July 6th, a film director shed tears in front of many cameras, supporters, and a large audience. Behind him was a court house, and before him was the world's prejudice. He said to those before him, "I beg of you to recognize our relationship before I die." He was Kim Jho Gwang-soo, one-half of the country's very first gay couple that held a public wedding ceremony in 2013.

The couple (부부) Kim Jho Gwang-soo and Kim Seung-hwan appeared at the Seoul Western District Court (서울서부지방법원) in Mapo-gu last Monday afternoon. The two of them had filed an appeal against the proceedings of the Family Registration Public Office, and this was the day of their hearing. Previously, the two had held Korea's first gay public wedding ceremony on December 10th, 2013, which is International Human Rights Day (세계인권의 날), and had also filed applications for marriage licenses. However, the Seodaemun District Office refused them, citing the civil definition of marriage. This is the country's first gay marriage lawsuit, and the case has now begun.

(I especially like how the Sino-Korean word "부부" was used to refer to the couple, since the Chinese characters "夫婦" refer to a man and a woman, but its usage for the case of Kim Jho Gwang-soo and Kim Seung-hwan acknowledges, in a way, that their relationship is equal to the traditional kind of couple. At the same time, the gender-neutral English loanword 커플 is also used to refer to them in this article, which is also progressive in its own fashion.)

From a HuffPost Korea article, the Seodaemun District Office's reasoning for rejecting their original license was that "same-sex marriage is invalid due to the settled civil definition of marriage" ("동성 간 혼인은 민법에서 일컫는 부부로서의 합의로 볼 수 없어 무효") as being between one man and one woman. However, the couple's appeal, submitted last May, states that, "nowhere in the civil law are there provisions against same-sex marriage, and through an interpretation of Section 36, Clause 1 of the Constitution that recognizes the right to marriage and equal rights, same-sex marriage must too be accepted." (민법 어디에도 동성 간 혼인 금지 조항이 없고, 혼인의 자유와 평등을 규정한 헌법 제36조 1항에 따라 혼인에 대한 민법 규정을 해석하면 동성혼도 인정된다")

During the news conference, Kim Jho Gwang-soo said, "I promised not to cry in court, but actually I ended up crying," and "I only ask that you recognize our relationship (단지 우리 관계를 인정해달라는 것), but I want to know why we are receiving so much hate. I've done my military service and fulfilled all my obligations as a citizen, so why do I have to appeal to the court, crying [for my equal rights]?"

The HuffPost article also has plenty of photos (courtesy Yonhap News) from the news conference following the court appearance (which was not open to the public). In the audience were supporters sporting rainbows and carrying signs saying 평등, 사랑, 존업 (Equality, Love, Dignity). There were also, of course, protesters, who carried signs saying things like "A male daughter-in-law? A female son-in-law? NO!" and "Our children need a mom and a dad!"
The news conference following Korea's first same-sex marriage lawsuit appeal (Yonhap News)
Every single one of the articles I've seen about this trial have referenced the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. Even this opinion piece written by Kim Jho Gwang-soo himself (which I will try to translate later, but it's so long...) begins with the news of victory from America and a quote from President Obama. Historically, Korea has taken cues from the United States in the political and social spheres, but when it comes to rights for sexual minorities, many of the Korean groups that oppose them are actually playing the anti-foreign intervention card in a gamble to preserve Korea's moral traditions.

But with growing international pressure, plus domestic pressure as events like this year's enormously successful Korea Queer Culture Festival (and Pride Parade) greatly increase the visibility of Korea's LGBTQ community, the issue is sure to take center stage in the near future. And when that happens, the status quo could very likely change. The hope is that while the United States took around ten years to come around to complete marriage equality (with the last two years in particular seeing the tides turn dramatically -- watch this amazing video illustration!), Korea, a country whose public opinion and social environment can evolve quite quickly, will shift in favor of full rights for sexual minorities in even less time, followed soon by its laws.

Links and Sources
Kim Jho Gwang-soo's HuffPost Korea opinion piece (Korean) and a public Facebook post he wrote about his feelings about the legal battle ahead (Korean)
My Fair Wedding, a documentary about Korea's first publicly gay couple, came out on June 4th (English)
- Three short articles (in English) about Korea's first gay marriage lawsuit, here and here and here.
- Two longer articles (in English), from The Telegraph and Korea Joonang Daily.
- The articles (in Korean) that I translated/used as sources, here and here.