Posts Tagged ‘korea’

Images of the city & a few notes

Views of Chunggyecheon, Downtown Seoul (click on image for larger view):

Cheonggyecheon 17*

Cheonggyecheon 10*

Cheonggyecheon 7*

Cheonggyecheon 20*

Cheonggyecheon 23*

View from the terrace at the Insa Art Center:



As hectic as this city can be, it does offer some very beautiful scenes. The confluence of nature and urbanity strikes a kind of balance in certain spots, making for moments to breathe and contemplate and just be. As I go from place to place searching for research materials I’m lucky enough to stumble upon some of these moments…

Ch’useok has passed. This is often referred to as the “Korean Thanksgiving,” but really the background of this day shares little in common with the American holiday. It is the full moon harvest celebration and Koreans pay respects to their ancestors, visiting their ancestral burial grounds and offering food from the harvest. There are no endangered colonizers being saved by the colonized, just the story of a weaving contest during the Silla Dynasty. I spent the day with my Uncle and his family and enjoying the company of the little ones.

Last weekend I ventured to Daegu, where many members of my extended family reside. It was a wonderful reunion after fifteen years. Seeing them was profound, like recovering some lost part of myself. Beyond language and culture, family connection can be so strongly felt…


10 2009

Prelude to Ch’useok: Family Reunions


10 2009

Running around, Modernity, and Being here

It’s been a little while since I last posted… In the blink of an eye, things suddenly became very hectic – between trying to prep & take the writing portion of the GRE, language course starting, getting used to the commute to SNU which is roughly over an hour to attend a class that I really can’t understand, but which I will continue to attend because it seems really interesting & I actually think I will be able to glean a lot of good information – and then there was also the 가야금 (gayageum) class Saturday morning, immediately followed by a two day Mongolian dance workshop, also held at SNU. Though this had nothing to do with my research, I promised to videotape for Professor Lee, and it was interesting, even through the total lack of linguistic understanding on my part. With the combination of more grad school prep (aforementioned GRE, applications, as well a required research paper for the apps) and adjusting to life here, the research, etc. life has felt just a little bit schizophrenic.

But — I can say that through the chaos and running around all over town, I have experienced a few moments of harmony with being here. In these moments, something clicks, and suddenly I’m here, really here, living in Seoul, and I understand it – feel I understand it more and more until it feels like the place I call home. For now at least. It is the place where I am, not the place where I’m just here as a visitor to do some work and waiting to leave. These moments come and go, but they definitely come, and that is a good thing.

Speaking of displacement, I am working my way through Roy Richard Grinker’s Korea and Its Futures: Unification and the Unfinished War, which discusses – many things, among them – Korea and modernity, a concept that addresses issues related to diaspora, displacement, separation (as in separated families from the War), shifting identities, the loss of tradition. Modernity: something that promises the new, exciting, seemingly boundless, and yet threatens everything a culture has identified as being; everything it has held sacred in defining itself. And here we are in Seoul -  a place that is now so far into modernity, what I think of as deep modernity. There is just no turning back. So what does that mean for unification? The South goes farther down a path of globalization, and the North remains frozen in time – in a time of pre-modernity, so far away from what is happening in the South, and the world, now. If unification seemed a complicated goal before (at least to outside critics), where does it stand now?

As I sat in a cafe near Ewha Womans University reading about unification being a sacred goal of all (South) Koreans; a goal assumed to be inevitable, but whose very achievement also threatens the foundation of S. Korean national identity, which is greatly based upon and defined by national division – I looked out onto the streets, full of young college aged women wearing the latest street fashions of Seoul, and I thought, Do any of these people even care? Most of them were born in the 1980′s and after – they are the children of a globalized and globalizing Korea. How do these issues that have so wracked their country for decades affect any part of their lives? The generations of people directly affected by the Korean War are beginning to fade, and I think that with that is the loss of something very, very important to the national, collective, cultural memory and psyche of this country. A recent survey from the Korea Peace Institute reported that out of over 1,000 S. Koreans aged 19-59, about half said that they could accept Korea remaining divided, so long as it is peaceful. This is a very different portrait than Grinker’s book (published 1998). It is too early to tell… I’m realizing a lot of the literature I have, though incredibly insightful and very important for my work, may also be outdated, even after just ten years. Things move fast on the road of deep modernity.

I can’t say if at this point unification would be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing – or possible/impossible – or if those questions are even relevant anymore. So much of discussion around unification just seems rhetorical. Not to sound like a pessimist, I want to believe in the possibility, but… I can say that the unification discourses that have been allowed to take place have been problematic for various reasons which I am too tired to go into here (i.e. – Germany).

And I can also say that I noticed how Koreans seem to really like Waiting for Godot. Unclear if it’s so much Beckett they like, or just the play itself. The latter would make sense. If you insert ‘unification’ as the ‘Godot’ that we await, but which never comes.

Then on the other hand, hundreds of families prepare for a much anticipated and very fleeting reunion with loved ones across the 38th parallel; a reunion that is most likely the last for many of these people. A complicated picture. Heartbreaking, really. All this Han!

Korea is such a deeply complex mystery to me – but I have the sense that understanding the nature of its mystery on a kind of gut level is going to be key to opening up some doors…

Non sequitur: some new words I learned this week

우주 (oo-joo) = The universe; cosmos

원리 (wol-li) = A principal, theory, fundamental truth => 우주원리

영가무도 (young ga moo do) = Spiritual dance

경과 (kyoung gwa) = Progression

There are a few other random thoughts I have had, but I cannot remember them now, so I will leave you with that.



09 2009

First statement since return

So far in Seoul

Seoul has been a place of small and strange revelations. The experience of being a foreigner, yet not looking foreign, marks my experience here in a way that has been pleasant on the one hand, awkward on another, and still I can move about with relative anonymity, which is helpful. The other day I was looking for a bookstore in Jongno-gu (northern Seoul), and I stopped at a very conveniently placed public information booth. When the girl behind the window asked me where I was from, I found myself replying, “New York.”  It’s strange being in a place where things are totally familiar to me – faces, the sound of the language, the general cityscape, and yet everything is still very distant and other – foreign. In the moments when I try to recall the things that are familiar, those things of home in whatever city that has been my ‘home’ in the last few years, even those things feel more distant and far off. I began re-watching Chris Marker’s San Soleil today, and there is a line: “Memory is not the opposite of forgetting but its lining.” And to speak of this transition, perhaps really entering another country means entering into liminal space for a while. Before you ‘arrive’, you are neither here nor there, but definitely someplace in-between. To think of each place containing its own kind of liminal space and what that feels like… But this just brings me to refer again to Marker’s film which refers to T.S. Eliot’s verse: “Because I know that time is always time/And place is always and only place.”

All this is to say that it’s been an interesting trip thus far.

Seoul feels a lot more open than in 1994. I’ve seen a few kids dressed in various subcultural fare. You could drop them in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and they’d totally fit in, drinking their 카페라테’s at the Verb. But it’s definitely much more than these surface markers. It feels more open in that it seems there is less labor in the struggle to reconcile tradition and the modern city – not that this struggle is absent by any means – but there’s a bit more harmony. Also, I remember this place as being very over-crowded, a bit chaotic, not knowing how to manage rapid industrialization with quality if life. It doesn’t feel like this so much now. There is a stream that runs through downtown Seoul, unearthed by a system called daylighting, to provide tranquil public space in the middle of the city, and that has also lowered pollution & temperature levels.

I have spent much of my time in the outside world meeting with people. Professors, people helping me connect with professors often professors themselves, tomorrow I meet with a representative from the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts. Everyone I have met here has been so kind, so generous, extending a hand to help me in my work in whatever ways they can. I am grateful to them. There is the Korean hospitality that holds a kind of under-stated dignity and open-heartedness that is so completely rare in the U.S. and other Western societies.

Still trying to organize myself and plan out the flow of work, of which there is much…

Hard to believe I have been here almost one month.

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09 2009

Outside Seoul Station

seoul station 4

after a botched attempt to find a water filter, i decided to just take in the ambiance at seoul station.

it was a beautiful day.

seoul station 2

seoul station 6

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08 2009

On Day of Mourning, 2 Koreas Meet in the South

A few moments in Seoul

[click on image to play.]

I’ve been collecting bits of audio & video on my ventures out into the city, and this is just a little compilation of some of the things I’ve seen and heard.

The music is being performed live by North Korean defector, Seong-Jin Park & Ewha University’s traditional music ensemble. This is from the Beautiful Dream Concert held on the 15th. The other audio track was recorded on a subway platform. The video tower is by Ik-joong Kang & Nam June Paik.

. . . . . .

The time here has been interesting… inspiring, exhausting, mystifying, and daunting. Sometimes all at once. I will admit to a few moments of homesickness. But overall, the feeling of being here is quite good.

I realized there is a general absence of sirens, honking horns, shouting. Occasionally in the afternoons a man in a truck drives through the little side streets, announcing over a loud speaker what electronic goods he has for sale on board. Other than that, things are pretty staid. After living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which always felt like one of the loudest neighborhoods in NYC – especially in the summer when everyone loved to have parties in their backyards with huge PA systems blasting reggaeton into the wee hours – this is a much welcomed change. How far away from that am I?

Looking forward to checking out a mandoo (dumpling) restaurant nearby, and also where I can get the perfect bowl of ja jang myun. These little things add up.


08 2009

In South Korea, Freed U.S. Journalists Come Under Harsh Criticism –

Even though I, like many others in the US, was so relieved when the Current TV journalists were pardoned by the North Koreans and watched their homecoming through every news outlet, I have to say that when they were arrested back in March by the DPRK, I thought, what the **** were they thinking?!? How could they have possibly allowed themselves to get caught like this? Naivete? Brash & blinded indie-style journalist guerrilla-ism? WTF?!

The incredulous-ness grew as I learned that they were covering the plight of North Korean refugees. – Great, not only did they risk their own lives through this ordeal, but also the lives of the very North Koreans they were trying to advocate for, and who would no doubt actually face the labor camps – not a guest house – should they get caught.

I wondered what happened to the tapes & materials they must have had on hand.

So I am glad to find this article on the Times site, which brings to light several of the very real problems this event has raised. Lives are still at risk, though the women are safely home. Maybe it will be helpful once they start talking, because the information here does not look good:

In South Korea, Freed U.S. Journalists Come Under Harsh Criticism –


08 2009

The project

For those of you who don’t really know exactly why I am here (don’t worry, I’m figuring this out too as the days go by…), you may view my project proposal here:

States of Becoming: The Korea Project

This is the seed of thought that has brought me to where I am now, and will undoubtedly be adjusted and further defined as things progress. Your thoughts, comments, links, etc are welcome.


08 2009