Archive for June, 2007



June 24, 2007

Another thing I really love and will miss about Seoul is that it is so easy to go out and play here. On any given night of the week, for example, we need only walk 10 minutes to Hongdae to join the throngs of people out eating, drinking, shopping, clubbing, and basically taking a break from their otherwise hectic and stress-filled lives.

Granted, we are extremely fortunate to live near Hongdae, an area renowned throughout the entire country for its vibrant nightlife and unique restaurants, bars, and cafés (e.g., previously-blogged favorites such as Cocaine Music Bar and the BAU House Café). However, there are lots of other opportunities to play cheaply and conveniently in Seoul, even in the fancy, upscale districts. Last night, we had a great time out with friends in Apgujeong (incriminating photo evidence here): an affordable dinner out at tasty Italian restaurant, followed by a bar with $5 cocktails, then 2 hours in a private karaoke room (all these within minutes stumbling distance from each other). When we were ready to go home, we waited approximately 1 minute for a ridiculously-cheap-by-US-standards taxi ride home.

But Seoul makes playtime so convenient that you don’t even need four walls to have a party. Walk 5 minutes in any direction and you will stumble upon a 24/7 stop-n-shop. Buy the necessary snacks and beverages and voilà, instant café/bar (without the pesky bar time)!

Or, how about an instant private party at a location of your choosing? Korea’s highly developed delivery culture is such that all one would need to do is pick up the phone to have dinner, beer, etc. (cigarettes, women, you name it), delivered within 15 minutes to wherever you are, even at a random spot that you’ve staked out down by the river:

Yes, I know what you are probably thinking: sounds fun and all, but surely no match for the nightlife in Appleton that awaits us, right?


Seongmi-san yaksu-teo 星美山藥水터

June 20, 2007

After writing my last post, it immediately occurred to me that one of the things I love most about living in Korea is that it has put me into (renewed) contact with other Korean-Americans who have experienced the same identity crises that have plagued me for as long as I can remember. Interestingly, some of these conversations have taken place with K-A friends I have known for many, many years, but it took the shared experience of living here to inspire articulation of these deep-seated issues.

However enlightening and comforting these conversations have been, and however appreciative I am of my current opportunity to have them, I suspect that they aren’t all that interesting to read about.

With that said, the second thing I thought of that I love about life in Korea is our weekly trips to the mineral spring on Seongmi-san to replenish our drinking water supply. While the name “Mt. Seongmi” might sound rather grand, and like someplace Matty and I would need to drive to, Seongmi-san is actually just our little neighborhood mountain! That in itself is something I find pretty cool about Korea – there are so many “sans” that it’s no big deal to have one in the middle of the city, just a 10 minute walk from home. Granted, in terms of elevation & acreage, it barely deserves to be called a “mountain,” even by midwestern standards, but it’s bigger than anything I’ve ever lived near, and if found in southern Wisconsin, people would almost certainly ski on it! For us, the most important thing is that it’s “mountain” enough to provide naturally purified (and regularly tested) mineral water – for free! In a country where NO ONE drinks tap water (and yet where we each drink at least 2-3 L/water day) we have really come to enjoy our weekly ritual of loading up our packs with empty 2-liter bottles, hiking up to the top of Seongmi-san, and supplying ourselves with fresh, free spring water for the week… something I’ll definitely miss.

The entrance to Seongmi-san

Much of the mountain is covered by small, community garden plots. I always feel the urge to stop and graze (just look at that red-leaf lettuce, yum! – I feel like Rapunzel’s mother!) … so are others, as evidenced by signs admonishing (would-be) thieves for veggie theft!

The path can get pretty steep in places. On our more intrepid days, we end our runs here. I still can’t decide whether it’s harder to run up these stairs or simply to hike up them with packs filled with water bottles.

The yaksu-teo (mineral spring) itself. As you can see, we are far from the only people who get their water supply here. Matty catches mosquitoes in his mouth as he gazes nerdily at the stone tablet commemorating the tap’s founding. hehe.

Note the hanging ladles for passers-by to have a quick, cool drink.

Setting up for quick in & out…

Not surprisingly, there is a protocol to follow (you must rinse with a quick swirl before filling your bottle), lest you open yourself up to inevitable corrective squawking from supervising elders.


Some pleasures exceed others

June 19, 2007

As my time is wrapping up here in Korea, maybe earlier than I imagined, I’m buoyed by the fact that I have a home to return to. This is a circumstance I wasn’t so sure of. Now, as a vagabond, I should embrace the unknown a little better, I know. But… let’s just say that being torn out of these textured surroundings will be a little bit easier of a task if I have some sort of comfortable fabric to wrap myself in when it happens. Which is to say, I’ve officially begun mental preparations for leaving. Part of it has been doing the opposite of what Dominica is doing… For each thing I notice that I love each day, I’m trying to come up with something I don’t like so much. (today: I cannot stand how horribly drivers disrespect crosswalks/redlights – crossing the street is extremely dangerous, greenlights mean nothing, and the vaunted humanism of Korean Confucianism obviously does not extend to pedestrians).

Funny thing is, I’ve lately come upon some really nice new things here. A restaurant we affectionately call “the commune,” a coffee shop with air conditioning and wireless internet right around the corner, and last but most: CutiePie.

I’ve tried to befriend each and every cat I’ve come across in my 10 some months here. The only ones I’ve been blessed enough to touch are those obviously domesticated and living within someone’s shop. Basically, they can’t escape even if they want to. But then the other day, something magical happened on the way home from lunch at the “commune.” I saw two lovely cats sunning themselves on the wall next to the church behind my house. Entranced as I am in such occasions, I approached, mouth agape in childish giddiness. Dominica laughed as she always does, giggling at my hopelessness, and begging me to let the poor things sunbathe in peace. We both know well that cats really, really despise people here, perhaps even more than the people despise the cats, and that’s saying a lot. Their evasive technique is but one sign of the disdain they suffer from the two-legs, more tragic are the ever present absent tails, often times just gnarled nubs, testifying to some little shit’s devious deeds.

I understood Dominica’s compassion for these wee ones, but, childlike raffamuffin that I am, my catcuddling instincts are beyond my control. That, and I sensed something different in these guys. . . and I was right. Of the two, the one in back raced off, then stopped and looked on with curiosity. But the one closest to me merely slinked away slowly, with minimal effort. This alone was a first! Coming closer, I began to click my tongue, and the next thing you know, she starts walking my way. Success! I embraced her and stroked her bony back. My first befriended kitty. She’s cute, so I named her CutiePie… and the next day I came by the same place and got her some tuna. I haven’t seen her since and don’t know if I will again, but we’ll always have our two sweltering afternoons together. Sigh….


Is that a challenge?!?

June 16, 2007

In the midst of editing deadlines and trying to keep up with Korean homework (90 minute private lessons last a painful eternity if not sufficiently prepared!), I’m taking a break to embark upon a formidable challenge presented to me by Matty last week. While I am truly having a wonderful time here in Korea, there are a good many, many, maaaany things about Korean culture that drive me absolutely batty.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Home Sweet Home

June 7, 2007


Behold the bahng nahng dahng. Yes, you heard me, the bahng nahng dahng. For you Korean readers, that’s방랑당 and for you Chinese character purists… that would be, 放浪堂. It means, roughly, the “Hall of Vagabondage” (or, to be precise: bahngnahng 방랑 [放浪] wandering; roaming; roving; a Bohemian life; dahng 당 [堂]: hall).

I hope we’re not jinxing anything here, since we realize that the house is not 100% ours until the closing paperwork is signed, but our offer has been accepted, the inspection completed, and the financing secured. Therefore, hopefully it’s safe to present our home for the next few years, 5xx E. Pacific St. in Appleton, WI. We’re thrilled to have found a place that is just minutes from the downtown area and a mere 4 blocks from my office (my daily commute will take me through City Park, a nice way to start and end each day and site of a soon to be constructed plaza). We’re especially jazzed about the front porch, on which we are already fantasizing about mid-afternoon naps with the kitties (the family-sized hammock has already been ordered) and later-afternoon beers with the New Glarus Spotted Cows. Have a look at the Flickr set if you are so inclined. The house is currently under renovation, hence the unfinished state of some of the rooms. However, all work will be completed by our move-in date in early August. Of course, we’re looking forward to everyone’s visit!

M here: Well, I must say it is very strange to be making such a monumental purchase without ever having seen or witnessed firsthand the product. Thank the heavens for internet, digital cameras, and Kinkos. The local Kinkos has been invaluable in providing us a place to quickly download, print, sign, scan, and return all the key documents of this undertaking. Sadly, I know its interior better than our home-to-be. But, I am getting intimate with the place the best way I can. In the style of any garden variety oriental-style seeker, I’ve named the abode, and already have a Korean style name-plaque (hyeonpan 현판) in mind that I’ll be having carved up before we head back. Why name a house? Well, maybe its the Confucian in me. Confucius was the one who was big on names, and on using names as the first step to create the reality you seek in life. In other words, if you want to live in Heaven, name your home “Heaven,” as a prerequisite first step. I don’t want to live in Heaven yet, for now, it’s just a happy little “Hall of Vagabondage.”


The Best of 1972

June 6, 2007

In celebration of my 35th birthday later this week, I spent a good couple of hours on compiling a “best of 1972” playlist. Unfortunately, the widget they provide that should allow me to post the playlist directly to the blog doesn’t work. Matty was then sweet enough to compile another list for me with another application, but alas, that didn’t work either! Grr. So, it’s not as convenient as it could be, but I hope that you’ll still use these links to have a listen. There’s a lot of overlap, but the lists are not identical, so pick the one you like best and let yourself be transported back to the days of Watergate, Apollo 16, and M*A*S*H. Hope you enjoy them (even if only ironically)!

  • scroll down the page and click on “play in pop up” under “My Playlist.”
  • Project Playlist
  • Remembrance of things (way) past:


    Dominica and Joe, c., 1972


    Meeting an icon

    June 3, 2007

    I can’t tell you how odd it is to actually meet the subject of your Master’s thesis…. but I can tell you that it’s quite a rush. This past weekend was the 8th annual Korean Queer Culture Festival, an event that includes a parade, parties, some concerts, and a film festival, among other things. Saturday afternoon was the parade, so Dominica and I headed on downtown to take in a bit of Korea’s “5000 years of tradition” (ahem). What a sight. Leather boys, trannies, drag kings and queens all gaily strutting their stuff down the newly renovated Chongyecheon boulevard. They had the streets to themselves, as the weekends are pedestrian only on the boulevard, but they were certainly not alone. As much as I wanted to go and see the parade and walk along with it, I also wanted to spectate the spectators. I had an idea what the response would be, as it is basically my job as a Korean Studies scholar who works on gender and sexuality to know these kinds of things. Most people just sat and stared, with neither enthusiastic support nor vicious condemnation. In this way, Korea can be a very much “live and let live” kind of place. There weren’t even any “Yaesu jaengi” (native Korean word for “Jesus Freaks”) to cast epithets of damnation down on the sodomites. Even the Buddha’s Birthday parade managed to elicit a few of those! But the Queer Contingent mustered only a few widened eyes. Oh, how I wanted to be a fly on the inside of some of those ajeossi and ajumma brains. I would bet there was a bit of jealousy among about 10% of ’em!

    The highlight was meeting the man above. Hong Seokcheon was the first, and remains the only, Korean celebrity to have publicly declared that he is gay. It was this event in 2000 that became the topic of my Master’s thesis at Berkeley. I used the occasion to note, first of all, how the articulation of a “gay identity” could not be described as a simple mimicry of Western gay identities, in that both his sense of self and his impetus for coming out (a word now borrowed into Korean as keoming aut 커밍 아우트 ) were rooted in a thoroughly Korean context. Moreover, while the reception to his bold act included being fired from his acting jobs (including his main work as a host on a children’s show – KEEP HIM AWAY FROM THE CHILDRENS OMG!), there was no minor amount of allied support to his cause, indicating that the general description of Korea as a “sexually conservative nation” that was “not ready for homosexuality” was only half the story. The main labor union in Korea quickly came to his cause and helped to fight for his right to maintain his employment. Imagine the Teamsters going to bat for Ellen Degeneres… nah.. gunna… happen.

    While not totally successful, this effort was a healthy indication that there was at least some cultural space among Korean society to acclimate newly emerging sexual identities. I had hoped, naively, that Hong would be a trailblazer, and that others might soon follow. Sadly, I was wrong. But perhaps it is more important that the hundreds of common folk who boldly marched have all taken part in their own coming out experiences. As recent polling has shown, and as anecdotal evidence makes very clear, the number one factor in creating safe, democratic space that guarantees civil rights for gays, lesbians and transgender citizens is when more and more people come to know these people as their family members, neighbors and co-workers.

    Okay, enough soapboxing. Anyhew… Hong was most gracious and excited to know that someone had taken an academic interest in his case. He was actually even suspicious, double-checking with Dominica, “Did he really write his thesis about me?” with the unstated follow-up (“or does he just want to hug my fantabulous self?”) I reassured him I wasn’t pulling his leg and told him I’d be happy to share my work with him. He told me to come by his restaurant (he’s since left TV, appeared in a few movies, and become a restaurateur) anytime and we could talk then. I bid farewell and he blew me a kiss. Sigh, what a nice guy. But that wasn’t to be all. As the post parade concert that he was MCing came to an end, I decided to say goodbye and find out the best time to see him at his restaurant. As I approached he smiled and said, “Are you going to drop by?” and after I asked when would be a good time, he just said “Call me!” and he gave me his cell number. So, looks like I’ll finally get able to interview the man largely responsible for me getting my M.A. in Asian Studies. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    Oh, there was a special guest at the festival. His name is John Cameron Mitchell. Many of you may not know him, but cult film fans will recognize him as the director and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He happened to be in Seoul for the stage production of his work and dropped by the festival to sing a song. Here he is with Hong Seokcheon.

    The one interesting thing of note… the crowd was probably 70% lesbians and all of the performers at the post-parade concert were women, except for Hedwig. This was kind of disconcerting and stoked my cultural studies research nerve. What could it be? Also unnerving was the absolute lack of any kind of famous contingent of Queer allies – no singers, dancers, artists, actors, or politicians willing to take a stand for human rights of sexual minorities. While understandable, in that, unlike in the States, there is very little to gain economically or politically, it bugs me that so many rich young people seem to worship American cultural products like Sex in the City, or they dream of living “artistic lifestyles” in Manhattan, but then they don’t dare take to heart that gayness is at the very core of these things they worship. That is, if they really want to be like Carrie Bradshaw, if they really want New York bohemia, they need to get some gay friends and start marching under some rainbow flags now and then. If not for their gay friends’ sake, then for their own damn cultural enlightenment. Dang!

    End rant… just a few more sights and sounds from the land of kimchee and bingsu.

    Oh, wait… one more tidbit. I almost got hit by a car last week. He did a no-stop, right turn on red right into my crosswalk. I had to run and jump to miss him. He stopped, I kicked his car and used dirty mean mouth in English, Korean having suddenly abandoned me in my shock. He rolled down his window, about to say something, I reiterated my displeasure. He then drove off before I could shove my housekey in his eye. After my Korean teacher heard me tell the story in my Korean class I had immediately after this incident, she expressed her disappointment in my use of English and proceeded to have a short review lesson on how to properly lash out with righteous anger in Korean. Next time, i guess.