The Grand Narrative is Evolving

I’m about to lose 1000s of followers. Yet I couldn’t feel any more relieved or enthusiastic.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes. Photo by Christian Diokno from Pexels.

No, not ending—evolving. Radically changing form, in order to survive and thrive.

Sorry if I alarmed you. So too, for my unexpected recent hiatus from writing. Real life just kept intruding, whether it was through moving apartments, chronic insomnia, teaching face-to-face again, noise complaints from my new neighbors, going though a bottle of whiskey every few days, one of my few close friends ghosting me, or so on.

But suffice to say we’ve all had our demons to face after over a year of Covid, and most people’s have presented far more of a challenge than mine. To let you get back to dealing with yours then, here’s the TL;DR:

Starting in July, I’m going to be dramatically cutting back on what I post to social media, in favor of longer twitter threads and Facebook posts designed to spark conversations instead. And, sometimes extending those conversations to Zoom and Clubhouse.

If you’ve primarily been relying on me as a news source, then I completely understand unfollowing me after hearing this. Sail thee well.

If you’d like an entirely too frank explanation for the change though, to understand why I’m so excited, and why only the smartest and most interesting among you are going to want to stick around? Then read on.

Photo by Marga Santoso on Unsplash.

Basically, the process began when Hootsuite announced it was altering its pricing plans.

If you haven’t heard of it, Hootsuite is a social media service I’ve been freely using for posting and scheduling links simultaneously across the blog’s Facebook, Twitter, and so on. It’s saved a lot of time compared to posting each link into each social media network manually.

From July however, its free service is going to be rendered effectively useless, and its next tier will cost $19 a month.

I’m not complaining. For what it provides, it’s definitely worth the money. If I could have paid monthly or 3-monthly, I probably would have.

Yet it can only be done in an annual lump sum of $228, which is very unwise on Hootsuite’s part. Because that feels like so much more money, it prompts hard questions in users’ minds about the real value they place on social media, which I think Hootsuite would rather they didn’t ask.

You see, with me, I was forced to admit I’ve been using social media as a crutch.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Way back when social media was first taking off, all the blogging gurus advised getting on board. Create an audience there they said, and more people will see your blog posts than if you just relied on email sign-ups and google searches alone. It made sense, and still does.

The issue is creating and maintaining that audience, which I’ve naturally been doing by regularly posting links to (mostly) East-Asian feminism, sexuality, and pop-culture stories. Which may sound like the easiest thing in the world, but consider the full process.

First, those stories have to be found. So, by now I have hundreds of google keyword alerts, email subscriptions, twitter search feeds, and RSS feeds set up to deliver them to me which you don’t, and have lost track of all the related groups and forums I’m in. All those have to be continuously updated too, as old sites die and new ones emerge.

Then, from all the ensuing links, a shortlist of articles, videos, artworks, and podcasts has to be blitzed through to make sure they’re interesting and suitable. Which again doesn’t sound like a grind at all for a geek, but in reality there just isn’t the time to absorb their content in any great depth.

Next, their links, headlines, and ledes need copying, pasting, and posting, before finally, with a huge sigh of relief, I can schedule them, trying to ensure a variety of content throughout the day and the maximum possible audiences.

Put that all together, and it can easily add up to an hour’s work every day—more actually, if I wasn’t so good at it by now. As I’ve been doing it for ten years.

It’s become very much a ritual, mostly performed over breakfast and my morning coffees, then again as soon as I return home from work. Both increasingly precious windows of free time which, you know, most real and aspiring writers would use to actually write.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

Yeah, all that time and effort does sound nuts in hindsight. But it’s also how I came to gain over 10,000 followers. I’ve seen how people really do sit up and take notice when they see numbers like that next to your name. And, when that happens, that feeling that the world is a happy place and that you are a notable person in it, is every bit as addictive and sublime as all that whiskey I’ve been drinking.

It’s still all a crutch though, because ultimately it’s just been an avoidance mechanism.

However much hard work is involved in pursuing likes, and however much it feels like I’m “advancing my brand” when I put a link up to do so, doing my own work presents far more of a challenge.

As a cishet white male specializing in the subjects that I do, it can be a struggle finding topics about which I feel I actually have something valuable and worthwhile to say. So, to gain the knowledge and confidence to do so, I rely heavily on Korean-language sources. But locating and translating those is hard. Interviews, difficult to arrange—nay, find the time and energy for—when you’re middle-aged and have a full time-job and a family. Putting what you do obtain all together and writing something cohesive, sometimes a herculean task. Trying to learn from established writers how to make the end result at least vaguely enjoyable and readable, thoroughly depressing—as if I’m a permanently stunted child, who will never, ever rise to their level. And, after all that, don’t even get me started on persuading people to actually read what you do finally come up with.

To continue a theme, if you don’t do any of that yourself, you really no have idea of the work involved. No, really you don’t.

Just a small taste of what’s on my desk and screen while working on my next post. Photo (edited) by cottonbro from Pexels.

It’s so much easier to just post links instead. So what if that ends up taking the place of my own work that day? There’s always mañana. Besides which, a story about the latest K-pop controversy will almost always get me far more likes and new followers than my writing will.

Yet if people responded more in the comments, then the social media schmoozing would feel much more worthwhile. But honestly? Most of the time, it’s as if I’m just screaming into the void, whether we’re talking about my own writing or the stories I link to.

Or indeed, not talking.

Only getting comments once in a blue moon on my blog, I understand—for those, I would need to go through the rigmarole of self-hosting, necessary to install the much more user-friendly Disqus commenting system. But on Facebook especially, with 4300 followers? Or on Twitter, with 3600? I don’t mean to exaggerate that I don’t get any comments at all, and I’m very grateful to all of you who have ever taken the time to leave any. Yet somehow, even when I respond to a long, thoughtful comment in kind, there’s rarely the sparks there that flare into the longer conversations I encounter on other people’s pages, groups, and tweets, despite them having much smaller numbers.

Put all that together, and I’d be hard pressed to name more than a dozen of you I’ve regularly interacted with.

I’m not gonna lie—it’s been lonely.

“You’ll talk about about my writing with me, won’t you? Please?” Photo (cropped) by cottonbro from Pexels.

It’s not you, it’s me. I know there’s much more I could do to increase engagement, and I’d appreciate your help in learning how. Indeed, jumping ahead, having real conversations with you from now on is precisely what this change is all about.

Another elephant in the room is that without that interaction, it’s exacerbated my feelings of being taken for granted. I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty by mentioning that (okay, maybe just a little), and I readily admit I myself only donate to the tiniest fraction of the people and sites I follow. But if, likewise, even if only just the tiniest fraction of 1% of my followers had made occasional, minimal donations, I could easily have afforded to keep using Hootsuite. Instead, despite my stats showing me that people sometimes spend hours poring over my long posts that took me months of work, and despite 1000s of people a day clicking on the stories I find and post for them, I haven’t received so much as a dollar for providing either in over four years.

Source: Fanpop.

For sure, I don’t mean to imply anybody should feel under any obligation whatsoever. It’s always been entirely my choice to do what I do, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it.

But I am, after all, just one person. My feelings have weighed heavily in my decision to make this change, so it would be disingenuous of me not to include them in my explanation. That, you know, just a note of thanks here and there would have been nice in the last few years, let alone an occasional $5 donation.

Without those, I just can’t keep running what has essentially become a free newswire service. Let alone if it’s going to start costing me $228 a year to do so.

So I won’t.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

What I will be doing on social media from now on is: choosing only the most interesting, relevant, and awesome news stories, music videos, advertisements, interviews, artworks, podcasts, and books; writing some brief commentary and adding translations as per necessary; and then posting those, with the deliberate intention of getting conversations going.

Honestly, I’ve no idea how long or how often those will be yet. It’s a work in progress, which I wouldn’t want to lose all my newfound extra writing time to. I’m certain though, that it will mean losing the vast majority of my followers.

But even if as few as 100 remain?

Who I can have real conversations with, that we learn from each other in?

That we mutually look forward to hearing each other’s commentary and insights from?

And who sometimes have their own cool stuff they’d like to share with everyone?

Then it will all be worth it.

And I do mean conversations. It’s 2021. It’s finally occurred to this grizzled old blogger that there’s no reason to just type at people anymore. So, by genuine coincidence, the KOTESOL Women and Gender Equality Special Interest Group has already arranged a Zoom session with me for a ruthlessly moderated/completely chill chat about life, the universe, and East-Asian feminism, sexuality, pop-culture, and the blog in 2 weeks (I’ll make a separate announcement soon), and I would love for Zoom chats to become a regular thing if enough people join them. I’d like to set up a regular room on Clubhouse too, now that the semester break has begun and I can familiarize myself with how to use it.

I know, right? Me feeling excited and optimistic about the blog, for the first time in years? This is going to take some getting used to!

From Pictures for Sad Children by John Campbell. Source: unknown.

Meanwhile, the blog itself will change a lot behind the scenes, but little on the surface. As revealing how and why would require an explanation just as long again however (but you’re still free to ask!), suffice to say I’ll be returning to longform writing only, will refuse to be distracted by the 100s of folders of potential post topics I’ve had bookmarked for years, and will exclusively work on actually continuing and—heaven forbid—even completing my “Asian” vs. “Western” Women’s Bodies and then Queer Female Gaze series, which will take a few months at least. Finally, before the year is out, I’ll also be aiming to complete a journal article on Erving Goffman and Korean advertisements I’ve been putting off for, oh, only about 10 years. Then in the next 6 months after that, another on the gender politics of Korean school uniforms.

I may look as relaxed as this guy, but in reality I’m sweating buckets about finding a ringlight suitable for countering a shiny bald head in the next two weeks. Any suggestions? Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Here’s to hearing many of your thoughts and comments from now on then, wherever or however I receive them! 😊 And please don’t worry about the drinking—I’m already over a month sober, and 5 kg lighter!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

The Korean Conscription System Promotes a Servile, Subordinate, Sexually-Objectifying View of Women. Here’s How.

Turning Boys Into Men? Girl-groups and the Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 7

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes. Source, right (cropped): Streetwindy via Pexels.

The contents of Everyday Sexism (2014) by Laura Bates, a UK-focused collection of public submissions and statistics on the myriad of ways women experience sexism on a daily basis, will be depressingly familiar to anyone who already considers themselves a feminist. Having accidentally ordered the book though, I could hardly not read it. Besides, I reasoned, what cishet middle-aged white guy wouldn’t still have a lot to learn about the topic?

So I persevered. And sure enough, there were many things which gave me pause, especially the accounts of sexual harassment experienced by female university students. Partially, because I’d been blissfully unaware of that sort of thing when I was a student myself. Primarily though, because they strongly reminded me of an incident at the “morale-raising” YG Military Festival held in Yanggu County in Gangwon Province on 5 October 2019, at which the female university students hired to be doumi (lit. “help-elegant-beauties”) were forced to wear revealing clothes for the soldiers. From the news reports below, which discuss that in the context of how routine it is to provide sexualized performances by professional performers and/or K-pop girl-groups at such events, it’s easy to see how choices like these can encourage a somewhat objectified, servile view of women among the (usually) very young, impressionable Korean men that go through the male conscription system. Many do overcome that socialization experience, of course. But the consequences for all Koreans of those that don’t would fill many, many chapters in a Korean version of the Everyday Sexism book.

Screenshot, SBS News.

My translated excerpts of various reports about the incident, starting with one from Wikitree:

YG 밀리터리 페스타는 양구군이 장병들 사기 진작을 위해 지난해부터 개최한 것이다. 이벤트 경기, VR 체험, 먹거리 시장, 가수 공연 등이 열린다. 네일 케어, 피부 관리, 타로점 체험 부스도 있다. 이번 축제에는 육군 2사단과 21사단 장병 2300 명이 참가했다.

The festival has been held since [2018] by Yanggu-gun to boost morale among soldiers, featuring competitive games, VR experiences, food stalls, and performances by singers and girl groups. There are also “experience booths” [really stalls/tables] for nail care, skin care, and tarot readings. This year, about 2,300 soldiers from the 2nd and 21st Divisions attended the festival.

논란은 체험 부스에서 일어났다. 머니투데이에 따르면 행사 대행업체 측이 행사장으로 가는 버스 안에서 여자 알바생들에게 흰색 짧은 테니스 치마와 몸에 달라붙고 가슴 부분이 파인 옷을 제공했다. 알바생들은속옷이 비치고 노출이 심한 옷이었다“, “조금만 움직여도 가슴이 훤히 드러났다라고 전했다. 이어행사 담당자는군인들이 쑥스러워하니 직접 데려오라‘, ‘군인들에게 적극적으로 대하라 지시했다라는 말도 덧붙였다. 이들은 피부 관리 부스에서 군인들에게 직접 마스크팩을 붙여주는 일을 했다.

The controversy took place over the experience booths. According to Money Today, on the bus going to the venue the event agency provided the female part-time workers with only short white tennis skirts and tight-fitting, lowcut tops to wear. The women complained, “They were so tight you can see my underwear through them,” and “Even if I moved only a little, my chest would be completely exposed.” They added, “The event manager instructed, ‘As the soldiers will be embarrassed, [especially those wanting you to put [skincare-type] facemasks on them], please approach them proactively and encourage them as you escort them into the booths.”

Some additional information from that report by Money Today:

알바생 A씨는사전에 알려준 의상보다 파이고 조금만 움직여도 배가 드러날 정도로 상의 길이가 짧았다알바생들이 속옷이 비치고 노출이 심해 민소매 티셔츠를 요청했지만 아무 조치가 없었다 주장했다. 일부 알바생은 노출이 부담스러워 따로 챙겨온 외투를 걸쳤다고 한다.

One part-time worker complained that, “The clothes were much shorter and tighter than what we were told about, exposing my stomach even if I moved just a little,” and that “Even though we asked for sleeveless t-shirts because our underwear was visible, nothing was done about it.” It is said that some of the workers wore a separate coat over the clothes because of embarrassment.


행사 대행업체 측은요즘 학생들이 많이 입는 테니스 치마일 이라며일부러 노출이 심한 의상을 제공한 것이 아니다라고 해명했다. 행사 스태프는 여성이 25, 남성이 15 정도였는데, 대행업체 측은원래 남자 직원들은 힘쓰는 일을 주로 하고 여자 직원은 차를 따라주는 행사 도우미 역할을 맡는 관행을 따랐을 이라고 설명했다.

A person from the event agency responsible for the clothes said, “It was just a tennis skirt like many students wear these days,” and that “We did not provide any clothes deliberately designed to overexpose the workers’ bodies.” They further explained that 25 women and 15 men were hired, but that “It’s customary that men have to do a lot of hard work, whereas women just have to be helpers and do things like pouring tea.”

Confusingly, in the video of the event above, many doumi can be seen wearing other clothing, which is not addressed by the anchors in the brief SBS News segment below that. Yet why should they? Whether through chance, smarts, and/or previous experience with doumi companies, that some of the women had alternate clothes on hand doesn’t negate the fact that those without had no other options.

Professional entertainment group Waveya (not a K-pop group) performing at a middle school in 2012.

On the other hand, if it’s the norm to hire young women in high-waisted skirts and low-cut tops for just about anything in Korea, including performances at schools, then the comment about no additional exposure being intended may well be true, if somewhat obtuse. That being said, I’m just as confused as you as are as to how men putting up tables and chairs somehow justifies forcing women to wear revealing clothes while serving tea. It’s also frustrating that the reporter didn’t challenge that non-explanation.

Policing the Student Body: Sookmyung Women’s University students told to cover up

I see reason for optimism though, in that the issue of consent was the hook that made the incident newsworthy, especially given that this must-read by a professional doumi gives the strong impression that such incidents are routine. Had I been writing a news report myself, I might have continued by comparing students’ own festivals and events, which also regularly create controversy for their sexual overtones, but, crucially, at which the offending clothes are worn by choice. (Or perhaps not necessarily; the ensuing sensationalist reports are hardly deep, and now Everyday Sexism compels me to reconsider them.) However, the main reason for the news reports was more likely the harm caused to the military’s image, Asiae raising in their own report another controversial incident that occurred at a different military festival the year before:

난해 814 유튜브에는피트니스 모델 @군부대 위문공연이라는 제목의 영상이 올라왔다. 영상 피트니스 모델은 각선미를 강조하는 자극적인 동작을 선보였다.

해당 공연 사회자가지금부터 기본포즈 4가지를 보여드리겠다 자세를 요구하자 선수는 뒤돌아서 엉덩이를 자세로 머리를 넘겼다.

나이가 어떻게 되냐 사회자의 질문에 “21살입니다라고 답하자 장병들의 환호가 이어졌다.

On August 14 [2018], a video titled “Fitness Model @ Military Consolation Performance” was posted on YouTube by the military. The model’s dance was quite sexualized, involving showing off body parts like her legs. At one point, she proclaimed “I will show you four basic poses now,” turning around to thrust her buttocks at the audience with her head down, her face visible underneath. To the cheers of the men watching, she answered “I’m 21!” when they loudly asked her age.

해당 영상을 접한 누리꾼들은여성 성상품화가 지나쳤다“, “위문공연을 이런 방법으로만 해야 하냐 분통을 터뜨렸다.

당시 청와대 국민청원 게시판에는성상품화로 가득찬 군대위문공연을 폐지해주세요라는 제목의 글과 함께 해당 영상이 첨부되기도 했다.

Netizens who saw the video on YouTube were angered, commenting that “The sexual objectification of the woman was excessive,” and questioning if such sexualized dances “were really the only way morale boosting performances could be done?”. Later, citing the video, a petition to abolish precisely those was posted on the Blue House’s public petition bulletin board [which the government has to respond to if it receives more than 200,000 signatures].

파문이 커지자 해당 부대는 영상을 삭제 조치했다. 부대는당시 공연은 민간단체에서 주최하고 후원한 것으로 부대 측에서는 공연 인원과 내용에 대해 사전에 없었으나, 이번 공연으로 인해 상품화 논란 일어난 대해 사과의 말씀을 드린다 했다.

그러면서앞으로 외부단체에서 지원하는 공연의 경우에도 상급부대 차원에서 사전에 확인하여 유사한 사례가 재발하지 않도록 하겠다 덧붙였다.

As the controversy grew, the military unit that uploaded it deleted the video. A spokesperson said, “As the performance was organized and provided by a private company, we could not have known what the contents would be. Nonetheless, we apologize for the “controversy over sexual objectification” this performance has caused. They added, “To prevent recurrences in future, we will check the contents of performances provided by external organizations in advance.”

Here’s part of the offending video, a blurred news report about it and other similar performances, and an unblurred compilation:

Given how family-friendly the atmosphere appears in the video of the 2019 YG Military Festival earlier, reporters raising that “fitness” performance may seem unfair, let alone my adding the compilation video in which other performers quite literally spread their legs in soldiers’ faces (I’ll let you find those scenes yourself). Similarly, in light of recent news about how important performing for the military years ago was for the sudden popularity of K-pop girl-group Brave Girls, and how devastating the loss of such opportunities due to the pandemic have been for other girl-groups, then it may seem that only a stereotypical feminist spoilsport could find any fault with that mutually-beneficial system, especially considering how tame most of the K-pop girl-groups’ performances are.

Actually, so long as universal male conscription continues, I’m not at all against performances—which is not to say there aren’t some issues that still need to be addressed with them, as examined in previous posts in this series. And yet, note that the family-friendly video is just one perspective produced by the local county government, which isn’t going to linger on the women’s bodies; unlike, say, the fancam below of New Heart, a professional cheerleading/dance team hired to perform at the 2018 festival. Also, just because this particular festival was relatively tame, that doesn’t mean something that raises more than just eyebrows may feature at the next one, let alone at more private performances on bases.

Indeed, a distinction needs to be made between performances by girl-groups and those by cheerleaders, fitness models, and so on. The former are more likely to perform in larger, more public venues; to be filmed; and to have reputations their management companies have to consider—considerations which don’t apply to private entertainers. Moreover, considering what we’ve seen of private entertainers’ performances so far, you do have to wonder what happens when no-one’s filming.

Ergo, this is no one-off. Engendering a sexually-objectified and servile view of women is fundamental to the Korean universal male conscription system. Don’t believe me? Just take the word of that military spokesperson. Not only does their feigned surprise, patronizing, disingenuous claim of ignorance, and passing of blame feel very, very familiar, but it’s surely revealing—pun intended—that their concern is over the controversy generated. Not the coercion, nor the revealing clothes.

Continuing:

위문공연의 선정성 문제는 국정감사에서도 제기 있다. 채이배 바른미래당 의원은 지난해 1026 국회 법제사법위원회 군사법원에 대한 국정감사에서군 위문공연의 문제를 지적하고 가이드라인 마련을 요구했다.

The issue of the sexual suggestiveness of morale-raising performances for the military has also been raised at the state administration. On October 26, 2018, the [since dissolved] Barunmirae Party [now former] lawmaker Chae Yi-bae pointed out the problem and demanded that guidelines be prepared during an audit of the military court of the National Assembly Legislative Judicial Committee.

의원은여성을 성상품화하는 위문공연을 폐지하라는 청와대 청원도 올라온 있다. 사과도 하시고 유사사례 방지하겠다고 약속하셨는데, 과연 방지할 있을지는 의문이라면서국방부 훈령 지침을 살펴보니 위문공연관련 가이드라인이나 지침이 없다 지적했다.

Representative Chae said, “There has also been a petition from the Blue House to abolish morale-raising performances that sexually objectify women. I apologize for them and promise to work to prevent similar cases. But it is doubtful if this is possible, as there are no relevant guidelines or procedures in place.”

한편 위문공연의 상품화 논란이 커지자 육군은 올해 1 외부단체 공연을 추진할 부대별 심의위원회를 꾸려 공연 내용을 미리 심의하겠다고 밝혔다.

However, in response to the controversy, the military announced that from January 2019 it would set up a deliberation committee for each unit to ascertain the contents of performances in advance when provided by outside companies and organizations.

If only that had extended to all companies and organizations involved, not just those providing performances. But, to finish with Money Today’s conclusions about the original incident—which may have sounded like hyperbole in isolation, whereas now:

전문가들은 군인 사기 증진을 위해 여성을 성적 대상화하는 인식을 바꿔야 한다고 지적했다.

Experts pointed out that in order to increase military morale, the perception of sexual objectification of women should be changed.

윤김지영 건국대 몸문화연구소 교수는여성을 눈요깃거리, 위안거리로 내세워야만 남성 군인의 사기가 증진된다고 여기는 것은 시대착오적이고 성차별적인 생각이라며행사 도우미의 불편한 의상이 문제가 없다는 주장도 결국 남성주의적 관점이라고 비판했다.

Yoon Kim Ji-young, a professor at Konkuk University’s Institute of Body & Culture, said, “It is an anachronistic and sexist idea to consider that the morale of male soldiers is enhanced only by putting women as an eye-catching and comforting object.” She criticized it as a masculine perspective.

허민숙 국회입법조사처 보건복지여성팀 입법조사관은군장병도 불편하고 내키지 않았을 가능성이 높다최근 젊은 남성은 여성과 동등한 관계에 익숙한 세대인데 진정한 사기 증진 방법을 고민하지 않고 낡은 관행을 답습한 점이 아쉽다 지적했다.

Heo Min-sook, a legislative investigator of the Health and Welfare Women’s Team at the National Assembly Legislative Investigation Department, said, “It is highly likely that military soldiers are also uncomfortable and reluctant.” I am sorry for that,” he pointed out.

Sources: left, right.

For further reading, I highly recommend Sex Among Allies: Military Prositution in U.S.-Korea Relations (1997) by Katherine Moon and Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea (2005) by Seungsook Moon. The former, for the obvious links to the long history of girl-groups entertaining foreign and then Korean troops; and the latter, on how the gender roles and rigid hierarchy learned during military service utterly pervade Korean institutions from schools to workplaces, frequently reducing well-educated and capable women in the latter to making coffee and cleaning tables.

That doumi exist at all I’d argue, and in such great numbers, are a partial cause and effect of that last. So for the sake of completeness, in my next post, I’ll provide a full translation of an article about their origins (from 2006, I don’t think anybody will be worried about the copyright!).

Meanwhile, pondering what a Korean version of Everyday Sexism would look like is what led me to writing this post. For the sake of more like it, what other issues specific to Korea do think should be covered, which wouldn’t be in the original UK version? Please let me know in the comments!

Turning Boys Into Men? Girl-groups and the Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts:

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If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

When You Suddenly See One of Your Favorite Korean Artist’s Paintings Randomly Hanging in a Store, You Just Have to Share the Love

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

It has, after all, only happened to me once in 21 years in Korea.

To fully celebrate my moment then, let me open above with my favorite of Jung Hun-sung’s (정훈성) watercolors, before showing you the specific work of his I saw in a moment. Alternatively, your sudden own new favorite Korean artwork may be his portrait of V (Kim Tae-hyung) from BTS instead:

If his style appeals to you, there are hundreds more portraits like those available at his various social media links (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Naver blog, Pinterest, Behance). While it’s a little frustrating that he doesn’t also provide the original pictures of the unnamed models and celebrities from the internet that he bases them on, I do like that he also has a YouTube channel where he posts relaxing videos of his creation process:

Which brings me to the painting:

Which I instantly recognized when I passed SLIC (Instagram), a specialty ceramic tableware workshop and store in Gwangallli Beach in Busan (photo taken with permission):

Undeniably a portrait of the same (unnamed) model, nonetheless I struggled afterwards to find Jung Hun-sung’s additional black-and-white version. Rather than pausing to wonder why it was a sketch and not a painting though, or taking a closer look at the signature like any normal person would, only after several frustrating hours did I learn it wasn’t by Jung Hun-sung at all, but by SLIC’s own ceramic artist Park Ji-hoon (박지훈):

Source: SLIC, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 KR).

Clearly a talented artist in more ways than one, I make no apologies for my post title(!), and encourage fans of ceramic art to check out SLIC’s website, and to visit their store offline the next time you’re in Gwangalli Beach.

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

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Zoom Talk: Migrant Conversions: Money, Religion, and Global Projects of Peruvians in South Korea (2020) by Erica Vogel, 9am Friday 12 March Korean Time

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

So many of you recently responded to hearing about Erica Vogel’s amazing open-access book, which taught me so much about a community that frankly I didn’t know existed, as well as a great deal about Korean immigration and religion in the process, that I couldn’t not tell you about her upcoming talk about her book (registration link):

TALK SUMMARY

Peruvian migrant workers began arriving in South Korea in large numbers in the mid-1990s, eventually becoming one of the largest groups of non-Asians in the country. Migrant Conversions shows how despite facing unstable income and legal exclusion, migrants have come to see Korea as an ideal destination, sometimes even as part of their divine destiny. Faced with a forced end to their residence in Korea, Peruvians have developed strategies to transform themselves from economic migrants into heads of successful transnational families, influential church leaders, and cosmopolitan travelers. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 global financial crisis, Migrant Conversions explores the intersections of three types of conversions—monetary, religious, and cosmopolitan—to argue that migrants use conversions to negotiate the meaning of their lives in a constantly changing transnational context. As Peruvians carve out social spaces, they create complex and uneven connections between Peru and Korea that challenge a global hierarchy of nations and migrants. Exploring how migrants, churches, and nations change through processes of conversion reveals how globalization continues to impact people’s lives and ideas about their futures and pasts long after they have stopped moving or after a particular global moment has come to an end.

SPEAKER BIO

Erica Vogel is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. She is a cultural anthropologist who conducts fieldwork in South Korea, Peru, and Mexico looking at issues of globalization, migration, religious conversion, and transnational flows between Asia and Latin America. She is the author of Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections Between Peru and South Korea (UC Press 2020). Her current project is funded by a grant from Mellon/ACLS and is called “K-Pop in Mexico: Creating and Consuming Globalization through La Ola Coreana.”

As personal testament to the book’s quality, this is actually the second talk of hers I’ll happily attend, despite them probably being almost identical. Hope to see you there! :)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Movie Review: Our Body/아워 바디 (2019)

What’s it like to meet someone who embodies a purpose? How do you cope when that person moves on?

“The moment I wanted to stop, is the moment I started running.” Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. Spoilers for first half of film. Source, all images: Naver Movies.

What main character Yun Ja-yeong (Choi Hee-seo) does stop at the beginning of this film is studying for years alone in her small, dingy apartment for the civil service examinations, the path to securing a rare stable job in Korea. Her goal was—is—depressingly normal, shared by as many as half a million young Koreans at a time.

What makes Ja-yeong different to them is that she’s done nothing else since graduating. That she chose this path despite having attended a prestigious university, which would have made her a shoo-in for most other jobs. But now she’s too old for those at 31, which also means she kept at her goal long after most would have wisely given up. Her inexplicable failure is further compounded by her briefly-seen boyfriend pointing out that she has no life or ambitions outside of studying and passing. (After some unenthusiastic sex, he leaves her for precisely this reason. She seems surprised—already we’re not.) Even her fateful decision not to take the latest round of exams is taken more out of apathy and resignation than resolve about what to do next.

But when the enormity of having wasted her entire adult life does hit her, it hits hard. She collapses in tears in a local park, the cheap convenience store food she lives off tumbling down the steps.

Then as if in a vision, the figure of jogger Gang Hyeon-ju (Ahn Ji-hye) suddenly materializes to hand her dropped items back to her, before vanishing out of her life again just as quickly. Looking poised, confident, athletic, and driven in her expensive athleisure wear, she is everything Ja-yeong is not.

Drawn like a moth to the flame, over the next few weeks Ja-yeong watches YouTube videos about jogging and struggles to put them into practice, shuffling and wheezing around a school track in old sneakers and clothes, all for the sake of a chance to meet Hyeon-ju again. She must also get a job—it’s implied that her mother (a much too young for the role Kim Jeong-yeong) has been paying all her rent and living expenses all this time, but, bitterly disappointed with Ja-yeong’s decision, may not do so indefinitely.

Finding the job search difficult because of Korea’s blatant ageism however, middle-school friend Min-ji (Noh Susanna) takes pity on Ja-yeong and manages to get her a basic, entry-level admin job in the company she works at. Yet she’s awkward there, unable to relate to her much younger coworkers, nor sharing their ambition. You sense that her time there will be short.

Then she does find Hyeon-ju. Soon, Hyeon-ju’s brought her into her large jogging club, then later lets her go on group runs with her and two other male members once she’s improved. Yet for all the viewer’s anticipation of their meeting again, the development of their relationship is glossed over, the focus going on Ja-yeong’s ensuing physical and mental transformation instead. Suffice to say, she becomes every bit as confident of herself and proud of her body as Hyeon-ju. This reflects in her job too, where she realizes the opportunities that are open to her, and even plans on a career.

Yet still her mentor remains frustratingly private. Only after running together for months does Ja-yeong even learn that she works in the publishing industry, and is a fledgling author.

That admission does presage a greater level of intimacy to follow, with more sudden phone calls from Hyeon-ju for personal midnight and sunrise runs together, and invites to drink at her place. In the first, after pointedly asking Ja-yeong what her sexual fantasies are, a very drunk Hyeon-ju strips to her underwear due to the heat. It sounds cliched, and is, but despite yourself you also yearn for them to begin a sexual relationship then—not only because of the camera’s focus on their bodies throughout this deeply sensual film, which makes it feel somewhat inevitable, but also simply for the opportunity to learn anything about Hyeon-ju at all. What makes her tick? What is she getting out of their relationship? What made her take Ja-yeong under her wing, a seeming basket-case who chased after her literally bawling her eyes out the second time she saw her, a complete stranger?

It doesn’t happen. Nor in the next visit, when Ja-young, concerned she’s missing their group runs and not answering her phone, waits outside her door until Hyeon-ju stumbles home drunk. Ja-young knows the reason is because her novel was rejected by a publisher, but doesn’t reveal this. Then after more drinks together inside, Hyeon-ju, in a rare moment of vulnerability, asks if she wants to read it—but Ja-yeong has already passed out.

Two minutes later of screentime later, Hyeon-ju’s dead, hit offscreen by a car during their next run together. It’s strongly implied she stepped in front of it deliberately.

Believe me, I debated over whether to reveal that spoiler.

I plead that after her death, exactly halfway in, Our Body feels like a different film entirely, impossible to discuss further without mentioning the circumstances that precipitated the change. For in that second half, the focus moves to her job, where Ja-young must deal with the conflicting demands of her grief, office politics, and her mother’s and friend’s expectations. Suddenly, she is every young Korean woman, chafing at her assigned place in a deeply hierarchical, status-obsessed, and sexist society.

Watch the film primarily for that last element, and you’ll be rewarded; I’ll wrap up my brief review here for so as not to spoil it.

But do not necessarily expect to be able to answer the question many other reviewers raise, of if Ja-young wants to be Hyeon-ju, be with Hyeon-ju, or both.

If forced, I’d argue the former. Primarily, because despite her growing confidence, Ja-yeong never initiates contact beyond that desperate chase at the beginning. Indeed, perhaps because Hyeon-ju comes across as somewhat of a ghostlike figure throughout, aloof and distant to the end, never giving Ja-young much to grasp on to with which to develop any potential platonic or romantic desire. Yet being the intense focus of the main character for all that, for this reason the underdevelopment of Hyeon-ju’s own story is my main frustration with this otherwise softly subtle, thoughtful film. So too that of Ja-yeong’s middle-school sister Hwa-yeong (Lee Jae-in), whom you suspect by the film’s end is the only other character who has any real sense of how Ja-yeong has changed and what she’s going through—but those conversations Ja-yeong needs with her never happen.

There are many torrents available; alternatively, it can be watched online with subs at DramaCool. Please tell me your thoughts!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

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Looking for Adult K-Webtoon & Novel Recommendations?

One of my favorite Korean YouTubers starts a new series

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Photo by @thiszun from Pexels

“What is he, man or mouse? Is he interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life? Has he no spirit? Has he no passion? Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, fuck?”

Those who wish to know should read on. Others may wish to skip on to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it.

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Chapter 25.

With that, Douglas Adams finally addresses readers’ burning questions about Arthur Dent, the main character of his classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Reach the same point in the fourth book, and you’d be asking too. Why indeed, describe a cishet man meeting women he was interested in, some of whom felt a mutual attraction for him, only to tell us nothing whatsoever about what happened next? For three whole books?

Those 1980s readers’ frustrations mirror my own with Korean pop culture today. Dramas in particular often fall flat for me because the adult characters seem to have relationships but never sex.

No, I don’t need to see them in bed necessarily. Nor does sex have to be the plot’s focus. Just have them acknowledge it’s a thing. Talk about its associated problems and pleasures sometimes. Admit experience and desire. Make bawdy jokes. You know, like normal adults do, including asexuals.

Don’t, and I just can’t relate to the characters at all.

I could continue with my feelings about other elements of Korean pop culture, such as being unable to find much interest in or desire for K-pop idols presented for our sexual objectification who are not allowed to actually have sex themselves. But you get the idea. You may also find my very limited experience quite unlike your own, and actually know plenty of Korean dramas, say, in which the characters don’t shy away from talking about about one-night stands, contraception, consent, and so on. If so, then do please let me know.

Which brings me to why I’m so excited about YouTuber Daisy’s latest video below. Many years ago, I finally found the relatable, adult stories I was seeking not in dramas, but in the monthly manhwa compendium PopToon instead—only then for it to cease publication just a few months later. Heartbroken, I refused to make the transition to webtoons. But, she’s finally persuaded me to take the plunge, and I hope you’ll find something of interest in her video too, and/or in later ones in the series (note she includes fluent English CC subtitles):

Ironically, I didn’t actually like any of her suggestions here, mostly because I’m not a fan of the sharp, angular drawing style in most of them. But I am looking, so please send me your own recommendations!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

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