Monday, November 28, 2016

Teaching "Korean Popular Music in Context" at University of British Columbia

I've already been in Vancouver for months, but it seems that I cannot find time to catch my breath. My current backlog of things to do includes:


  • Writing half of a chapter for a book on how to talk about Korean performance, sort of an introduction to the specialized and representative terminology (the topics in the chapter have been divided, I'm responsible for half of them). After both of us have written, then I'll have to go back and work with my co-author on editing them into a coherent whole. The book is part of a series with many different countries represented, and the authors were all part of a workshop in Berlin last summer where we hashed out what to write about (and who would write about each topic). 
  • Editing and encouraging the writing of another chapter for the same book. I'm the native English speaker, but the other author is senior and more of a practitioner, so if he doesn't start writing soon I should put my encouraging hat on. As I understand it, I will be using my advanced knowledge of the topic and my English skill to make his writing more academic, more of a match with the volume, and of course, more fluent. 
  • Writing a chapter for a book that will accompany a museum exhibition in Germany. 
  • Reviewing a book (a solicited review for Journal of Western Folklore)
  • Reviewing another book (a solicited review for Ethnomusicology Forum)

  • Preparing my conference paper for Association for Asian Studies in Toronto in March. Yes, I know many people write their paper on the plane but 1) I don't work well that way and 2) I'm on the job market so I need to be schmoozing and shaking hands and attending talks, not locked in my room writing my paper throughout the conference. Also, it's a new project which means it requires more work to get it ready. 

  • Finishing up a journal article on K-pop cover dance that is more than half done (and the research is done-for-now, although it is an evolving field so I will have to write more about it in the future). 
  • Reading and responding to various other people's work (the only way to ask them to look at mine^^). I am really behind on this. 


-and most of all-

  • Finishing my book. The idea was to be done in the summer, then I got this postdoc and decided I'd rather finish it while I was here (the postdoc application did indicate I'd work on it this year), get feedback from people here, and take advantage of a little more time to improve it. But since I got to Vancouver I haven't even opened the files. 


What have I been doing? 1) Teaching my class, and 2) job applications (they take a lot of time as well as mental/emotional energy). Fortunately this year there are quite a few jobs open that are worth applying to. Unfortunately most of those jobs will get more than 300 applicants (and that's only for the jobs in the smaller fields or with more restrictive search criteria, some of them will probably get closer to 1,000).

I just find this photo (from promotions for Troublemaker "Now") disturbing on so many levels that I'm subjecting you to it. Sorry. 


But the good news has been my class. The class is great. Although it is lot of work to teach such a large group (120 was the maximum enrollment and we had many students clamoring to be added to the class, at the start we didn't know how many of the students who enrolled were serious about taking it, or had just "saved themselves a spot," so we gambled and took just about ten extra students to make up for people who were going to drop. At that point we were just over 120, and worried about the work of grading, but even after the midterm we lost a few students so we're now about 110 + auditors). Teaching such a big class does mean preparing lectures (you can't have much discussion when you've got so many voices!), but the lecture topics are fun and the students are really great.

It has been quite a learning curve for me. It's my first time to teach a class with my own TAs. I have two, both really excellent. One is a fourth year undergraduate, and she understands the system here at UBC perfectly, is very responsible and detail-oriented, and navigates the computer system / learning platform (connect) for the class. The other TA is an eighth year graduate student here. She's full of energy, very thoughtful, and quite knowledgeable. I am so thankful that I got TAs who help me and never cause any problems. I think I've done a fairly good job of asking them for help so I'm not overloaded, but not dumping more on them than they should be dealing with. One of them is better about protecting her own time than the other. Preparing lectures for two classes per week has felt like twice as much work as preparing for one a week, which sounds right if you forget that lectures in Korea are three hours long, and this is only one and a half (one hour and twenty since I need to give them time to get to the next class). On many instances I have prepared much more than I can cover in the time period and had problems such as transitioning into speed-lecturing mode (this is NOT helpful, not just because I have many exchange and international students, but because no one can process information as fast as someone else can spit it out). Since I teach the same class next semester I will be able to better divide topics so that the important topics get enough time to talk through them slowly and thoughtfully. I will also have time to refine and revise my lecture notes instead of just throwing tons of information at paper and scanning through it in class, hoping I organized it effectively.
Google results for a search for Korean "flower boys" 




As for topics, at the start of the class I had some orienting lectures (first about Korean music before the modern era, and second a quick swing through of Korean history), various lectures then covered the evolution of music in the modern era (music in the colonial era, music under the dictators and such). These classes were the first 1/3 of the lectures. After that I have been working topically. For example, last week we had a lecture on K-pop Consumption and Fandom (Tuesday) and on Choreography and Fans Engaging with K-pop through Cover Dance (Thursday). Obviously both of those are linked to fan practices-- I did always try to make linked topics appear in back to back classes, to the extent possible. So the class that dealt with Masculinity, Male Image, and Mandatory Military Service was right before the class on Femininity, Plastic Surgery, and the Obsession with Image. Tomorrow I will be talking about Tradition, Korean Image, and K-pop (so how tradition is used within K-pop and how K-pop impacts the way tradition is packaged/promoted). I am really looking forward to this topic, although I'm so exhausted I wish the semester was over already.

Colored light sticks wielded at concerts correspond to the K-pop group you are a fan of

There are always ways to spend more money on K-pop

The class has no attendance, but quizzes without prior notice (so a zero on a quiz is the penalty for not showing up that day-- students can roll the dice to see if they want to show up or not, but we did decide to throw out the lowest two quiz scores). Quizzes are operated on the iclicker system (so the computer grades the quizzes and inputs the grades at the click of a button). Quizzes are 20%, there is a midterm (20%) and final (30%) as well as a video project (done in groups, 30%). In general I have no problem with attendance, because students enrolled in this class because they are interested in the topic-- it will not help them get a job or fulfill requirements for graduation. So they come, they stay awake, they send thoughtful emails and do pretty well on their assignments.

Speaking of doing well on assignments: the video projects varied greatly in quality-- the best groups were really amazing, and most fell into the A range. Here are a few of the best videos:

A Case Study of the Singer CL
New Mediatized Depictions of Rap in Korea
Star Making 101-- or Why is Bae Suzy (MissA) the "Nation's First Love"?
The Role of Cover Dancers in K-pop
Korean Survival Shows and K-pop
Androgyny and K-pop
The Success of "Gangnam Style" in the US (focusing on dance and marketing)
The video that won the popular vote in class is currently private, but it's so good... I'll share it if they make it public again. It also got the second highest grade from the instructors.

These videos lacked something on the academic engagement end, but were well done and are worthy of mention:
The Future of Big Bang
A Close Reading of the Big Bang Video "Bae Bae"

So, that's a short update and links for you to follow. It would be nice if I could write a blog post more than twice a year, though.



Yes, we had a class on cultural appropriation and K-pop




Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Riding a Bike from the San Juan Islands to Vancouver, Canada : p.s. BC Hydro Sucks


On August 27th I rode my bike 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Lopez Village to the University of British Columbia Point Grey Campus. Before leaving for this trip I repeatedly search online for routes taken by other cyclists and had little luck. Some cyclists (most seemingly riding from Vancouver to the United States) explained their routes in rough terms, but actual route maps, or the gold standard for serious cyclists— Strava or Ride with GPS downloadable data— was missing. Eventually I had to piece together ideas from various sources and headed out on my trip. Fortunately on the ferry ride I met a woman who was on a bike heading back to a place East of Bellingham, and she gave me some good pointers. My entire ride from the United to the border with Canada is something you can follow with confidence (Strava link to the ride data).

I am already planning how I can ride part of the US route again. I didn't ride that fast because I kept stopping to take photos, and because I was unsure of the route, and I'd like to go back and get all the QOM.

I started from Lopez Village and took the first ferry:


The one part of the trip outside Anacortes and before Edison that you might be confused about is "do I have to ride on the margin of Route 20"? Yes, so far as I know, you do. I rode against traffic on 20, on the far side of the breakdown lane, and it was a little scary but only about two miles (from leaving March Point Road next to the reservation gas station and casino, over the bridge (there is a separate pedestrian/bike lane on the bridge) until you turn onto the road that goes past Padilla Bay to Edison. If you rode on the correct shoulder of 20 you would have to cross 20 to get onto the road to Edison.

View from the Bridge:

Riding on Chuckanut drive without much of a shoulder with a cliff on one side and sharp drop off on the other was also a bit sketchy, but people there are used to cyclists and all the signs tell the drivers to share the road. Although I was worried about Chuckanut before riding it, it's actually only about eight miles that is sketchy.

Much of the US part of the ride looked like this (view towards Chuckanut):


Or this- outside Ferndale:


I stopped at the Community Food Co-op (Co-op Café) in Bellingham for a late breakfast (I had an early one of food I brought with me on the ferry), coffee, and excellent lunch to go that I ate in White Rock (BC) in front of City Hall. At the Co-op they let me take my bike inside and were very welcoming. The food was perfect, too. I would definitely recommend patronizing the Food Co-op if you pass through Bellingham. There are a couple small places (a restaurant, a diner, and a bakery at least) in Edison right next to the road, and at least one of them looked like outside seating next to your bike would be possible—however, none were open on a Saturday morning at the time I went through.

mmmm lunch (with a Bosko rose):


Downtown Edison: 

After Bellingham there are several routes you can take, the route I chose worked very well, but I think you could safely deviate from it and have the same experience. Basically there is a lot of farmland, and some forests, it's mostly but not all flat, the roads usually have a wide shoulder and they are pretty wide. There isn't a whole lot of traffic.

I crossed the border in the NEXUS lane (got my card Friday), but they told me next time to use the special bike/walker lane next to the building.


After the border things got not so perfect. If I do this ride again, I will have to figure out some alternative route, or do what many people seem to do- hop on a bus in B.C. My route worked. You could follow it. Certainly from the time I got on River Road in Richmond until UBC it was ideal (this part I scouted out in advance). However, in Surrey it got pretty dicey and I thought I was going to die under the wheels of an obscenely larger than necessary pick-up truck.

Crossing the bridge from Richmond to Vancouver:


So, what did I do to celebrate this long ride? Ahhh, I was dreaming of the food I was going to cook up and I had already given myself permission to mostly chill out for the rest of the day. BUT as soon as I walked into my apartment it was obvious that the power was off. I called the emergency number and eventually they sent someone, but it turned out that BC Hydro (the power company) had turned it off. Why? Because the previous tenant moved out in July sometime and BC Hydro was feeling unloved that there wasn't a new name on the account and it was already end of August. Of course when I moved in the building supervisor told me that I could wait a couple of weeks to do it, just tell them the date I moved in. With all the hundreds of details to take care of with completing an international move and getting my Canadian paperwork, university paperwork, buying my little truck, finding groceries, etc. I was relieved to have one thing I could put aside for a few days. But by this time it was Saturday at 4:45. I called them, and they were able to take my details to set up the account, but needed my lease agreement which I could not send because no power=no modem=no internet connection. And while I was talking to the woman it went past 5 pm, when the office was closing.

The temperature in my fridge had equalized with the outside temp, so it must have already been off for almost the entire time I was gone. Most of my food (but not all) was still okay, though, since the door had been closed and it had just slowly warmed. I called Kimberly and although she and Toshi were at a party on a beach, at least it was close by. They picked me up on their way home, with changes of clothes and papers for class prep and a bag of the salvageable food. I spent the rest of the weekend at their house (thanks be for good friends!).

Of course I had sent BC Hydro the lease agreement as soon as I arrived there, but it turned out mine didn't have the signature of the property management company on it, and while I was on the bus going home (hoping that I'd open my door and everything would be on again) they left me a message to call them. Finally getting them on the line (an hour and a half later), they explained the problem. Even though I'd given them the phone number and name of the woman at the property mgmt company in charge of my building, they hadn't called her to ask about the lease agreement. So then they did, and she sent it. And BC Hydro said "we're going to turn your power on remotely. We'll try for 90 minutes. If it doesn't work we'll try another 90 minutes. If it still doesn't work, we'll send a technician. That might not be until tomorrow, but in my experience it's always the same day."

The second 90 minutes expired at 3 pm. I still don't have power, and it's the following morning. I charged my computer and phone in the hallway. I don't have internet, so I can't research the things I need to do today like getting my vehicle insured and getting a BC driver's license (where is the DMV? which insurance company should I go to? where is the closest office?). Last night I had a night ride (bike ride) with a group of guys, got home around 9, and asked my lovely Korean neighbors for a light for my candles. A few minutes later a knock on my door announced the arrival of a whole plate of food (some did not have meat) and a giant thermos of hot water, tea bags, and coffee mix sticks. Totally touched, I went to sleep happy.

I had to use flash to take the photo:


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Performances of "Tradition" for Tourists : Jeongdong Theatre's "Youll"

For many years I've wanted to more deeply examine the performances that are marketed to tourists in Korea. A friend of mine, Choi Haeree, invited me to one of them and I decided that this would be the perfect time to write a paper on some of the issues with appropriation and commodification of tradition that I've seen in such shows. My chief issue with performances for tourists is how they adjust tradition to a point where what they are showing lacks many of the beautiful aspects of actual tradition, or worse, just uses a facade of tradition while offering nothing of substance.

Haeree and I watched a show at Haeundae Grand Hotel in Busan called "The Queen's Banquet." There were many issues, but... there were some good points to the show as well. The full price is 30,000 won, but it seems there are a lot of ways to get discounts, if you're in Busan anyway, you might like it. I wouldn't tell someone "never see that" as there are redeeming features (I particularly was happy that I could take photos during the show!). 
For the second show of three that I am watching specifically  for the purposes of writing this paper, I went to Jeongdong Theatre (formerly written Chungdong but I noticed they've changed the spelling to RR Romanization). Again, I was able to get a ticket for free. Thanks be! Because it was one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Seriously, it was horrible. If you said the show in Busan was like an enthusiastic student performance where they missed some of the subtle aesthetics and got too excited and jumped too much, well, this show in Seoul would be the show done by some pretentious art school students who understand nothing, think they understand everything, have no respect for anyone (including the audience) and are bored out of their minds, or fully know they're doing something stupid and their desire to be somewhere else shows. 

So, let me see if I can explain why this show (ticket prices of 30-60,000 won) was so bad. 
First: The show included all the cliches. If a woman is evil, she sexually tempts, exposes too much of her body (hello, in a "traditional" show you've got women with skirts slit straight to their crotch?), or she wears black lipstick. If a woman is good, she's bashful about physical contact, or she flits around on her toes with a white feather/wand. The story was stupid and cliche over all. It could be summarized as: evil kills good king, hero emerges through difficulty, hero and heroine prepare for battle with evil, they defeat evil, they get married. The entire play was mostly non-verbal, except for sung narration. The over-acting to make sure you'd understand the un-narrated bits was... extreme.

Second: There were essentially three traditional elements at play. A) pansori B) pungmul drumming C) hanbok costumes. But the pansori singers are either incompetent, or more likely, the director told them to make it less of a pansori type singing and more of an operatic type singing. The distinctive properties of pansori were almost absent. Songs were used as narration to move the story (in pansori, narration is narration-- it's spoken-- and songs are when the action slows down to real-time speed instead of compressed jumps), and at almost every instance the pansori was accompanied by a cacophony (yes, loud, loud, loud) of recorded music from offstage including synthesizers, and maybe some cymbal, high hat, a little drum, or whatever from the Western drumset drummer who was in the pit to the front and side of the stage. So the actual beauty of pansori (accompanied by a single drummer on a barrel drum, very subtle) was never on display.

The pungmul drummers had -at most- forty-five seconds of stage time without other off-stage or front stage Western drumset man music accompanying them. Even though the drummers were on stage about five times, you never really got a sense of Korean rhythms or the actual sound of just drumming (even though Korean traditional drumming tends to be what foreigners enjoy the most, show after show).  And finally the hanbok were all fancied up and made sexier, so the performers could look slim and beautiful-- not one traditional hanbok was ever on stage, except perhaps some of what the peasants were wearing, but even those were not white minbok, even if they were minbok-esque. 

I am not saying the show has to be traditional, or that it needs to be fully authentic, but if your marketing and promotional literature talks about how you showcase the heritage of pansori and talk up how it's also UNESCO listed, then at least you can actually have some real pansori on stage. There were a lot of foreigners in the audience, and they thought they were seeing tradition-- they wanted to see tradition, that's why they bought the ticket. To show that that horrible show at best leaves the beauty of Korean tradition tarnished in their eyes. They probably go home saying "that didn't seem very different than xxxx from my culture." There was no dance motion from tradition, and the martial arts scenes were at best an orientalist fantasy of all Asian martial arts rolled into one, nothing specific to Korea, in fact, since the hero and heroine use long staffs, which are not much used in Korean martial arts, but are used abundantly in Chinese arts, probably any Chinese viewer would have thought it was stage-Kung Fu, not anything Korean. 

Third: The entire show was a mish-mash of orientalism and self-exotification where the directors and producers were clearly aiming for a non-Korean (Western) eye, without caring one whit about accurate or otherwise presentations of Korean traditions or culture. The entire thing felt icky, like I needed a shower afterwards. And of course it also represented a giant missed opportunity. The show is twice a day, six days a week. It's widely promoted and backed by the government. All those people who could have learned something didn't. For example at the end the heroine is in a slim and body hugging white gown (with hanbok elements), and has a white veil-like hair piece. So you can understand they're getting married. Never mind that in Korea white is the color of death and funerals, and that traditional wedding robes are gorgeous, splendid things that don't use some lame filmy white lace, but rather an even more awesome hair piece like crown with a trailing embroidered silk strip down the back of the head. Of course a one word title on the side (they had English on one side, Japanese and Chinese on the other on screens) could have declared "wedding celebration" just to make it all clear for the audience, if they really thought people needed it.

They were very proud of their hyper-modern visual techniques-- and I admit a couple times they were cool-- but most of the time they were just distracting and more light on the stage and less eyestrain from trying to see through weird layers of projected moving images would have been nicer. 

I am appalled that this is what is being offered to tourists, that every travel agency is recommending this show (one reason is that most shows are one-off and agencies like long runs that are easy to predict), and that in fact Jeongdong Theatre has slipped so much (I enjoyed some of their cheesy tourist stuff in the past, admittedly when I knew less about traditional performance, but it was much more traditional than this). Tourists who come for a once in a lifetime visit to Korea should be shown the best of Korea, not some horrible mix of bad singing, ballet-esque motion, and historionics. 

I just hope that the final show of the three is less odious to sit through. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Leaving Korea

I think my husband has probably been trying to get me to leave Korea since we met-- sixteen years ago. I love my husband (we've been married eleven years), but I fell in love with Korea first. Crazy, beautiful, passionate, sometimes even infuriating, Korea. Korea with its amazing music (traditional and pop), with its bathhouses, traditional markets, hiking trails, and thousands of islands. Korea with its pollution and too hot summers and too cold winters and litter problem. Finally my husband made an ultimatum.

Leave Korea, or we're going to get divorced.
We can't live like this, you in Korea, me somewhere else.

I admit, I understand him. I can't be angry at him about this ultimatum. I'm the woman who got married to a man but wouldn't stop hanging around the one I hadn't married (obviously in this metaphor Korea is "the other man," but you can't marry a country, can you?-- or maybe that's what naturalization is). I don't even really want to work in Korea. I want a lovely tenure track job in an area I like in the US, maybe Canada, maybe Australia, New Zealand, even somewhere in Europe. Somewhere where professor means something about research and quality of teaching, not so much about status and power (I did not enjoy being within Korean academia, although working at a better school with a more open attitude towards non-Korean professors should be much better). I've always wanted most to work in a SLAC (small liberal arts college), but I'd happily take a job in a R1 (research 1, the big schools like UCLA), or in a community college (yes, I would have to teach many classes, but you know what, I like teaching, and there would be less pressure to publish) or really any place that was honorably providing non-profit education for young minds (or old minds, I don't care). However, my preference for working somewhere other than Korea does not change my preference for living in Korea.

In my husband's defense, there is nothing for him to do in Korea. My life is rich and interwoven with friends of ten, fifteen, twenty years. I ride my bike, I do hapkido, I have research to do, papers to write, students to teach. My husband isn't big on the culture, and already knows two languages beyond his native Amdo Tibetan. He learned some Korean-- he can order food, ask for directions and understand some of the answer, phonetically read things-- he has survival Korean. But he's not going to settle down and make a bunch of friends -- he's not actually happy here. He can't get a work visa, and if he did, it would probably be for work that is not at all fun, challenging, or even tolerable. It would be low-paid and he would not get much respect. Koreans aren't even particularly interested in "other Asians" (if he was a traditional performer from elsewhere, he might get more music opportunities).

So, in December last year (2015) I agreed. I'd leave Korea. I'd leave by the start of the fall (2016), and if I didn't have a job to leave to, I'd just be unemployed. I wouldn't stay in Korea, where (since leaving my job at HUFS) I am happy -every day-. Let me say that again, I am happy -every freaking day-. I wake up happy, I go to sleep happy, I eat food happily. I am HAPPY. The only bad thing in my life right now is that my husband isn't here in Korea with me. I might be, barring the absent husband, the happiest I have ever been in my life (full disclosure: I have also had the worst time in my life in Korea). So, I promised I'd leave Korea. I don't mean forever not coming back here. But leaving with the understanding that I'd at most spend summers in Korea. Maybe I'd be able to have a semester here in a few years. The understanding that I'd be visiting Korea, not living here. That I'd come on research trips, do a little fieldwork and then go "home."

Korea is my home, says my heart. Korea has been my home since I first came here, it only took me one year to realize this (I inhaled in 1997 and realized I was home, I still remember that moment that I knew Korea was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.) There are so many things about my happiness in Korea right now that can't leave Korea with me. The biking is phenomenally good-- I ride my bike on well maintained paths that start 1 mile from my house. I am going to the best Hapkido place I've been to in years. He's fabulous, just the instructor I need. I live right on top of one of my research sites and just run into friends on the street (and end up carrying their heavy boxes of crap if we're talking about yesterday when I ran into a neighbor I've known since 2005). My house is small, but cozy. I live next to a nice bathhouse, a giant traditional market, the subway, and lots of buses. My monthly costs are crazy low (I'll go from renting here for 350,000 per month -- think 350 bucks-- to maybe even 2,000 Canadian collars).

I got a job. It's a one year postdoctoral research fellowship + a two semester part-time teaching fellowship at University of British Columbia. I'm packing, my house is a mess. But I can't pack Korea into the boxes. And it's breaking my heart.

Some recent photos by my awesome cyclist friend Leo Rhee that do not reflect the nearly 15 years I've lived here out of the past 20:






Thursday, June 25, 2015

Quick Book Review-- "The Birth of Korean Cool" by Euny Hong

I don't have time to write up a review of this book, and I read it over two months ago (three? time flows so strangely sometimes I have no idea). It was not very good. Don't read it. There, review done.

Honestly I originally intended to write a more in-depth review. I read the book and although Ms. Hong shares some insights, none of them are particularly new or original. When she's at her best she's sharing the sorts of reasonable sounding pronouncements you might find in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or other publication where competent writers fact check things before they get published. Those authors aren't generally experts, but they are smart and have more than a passing knowledge of Korea. That's about what Ms. Hong is-- a smart person with more than a passing knowledge. She lived in Korea as a teen for a few years (although she was so bad at Korean she couldn't attend a regular Korean school despite trying and went to an upper crust private school taught in English instead). She's been in and out of the country since, but her home is America, and the list of people she managed to interview for the book were undoubtedly interviewed with the assistance of a translator-- she never says so, but since she mis-translates Korean terms on over a dozen occasions throughout the book it is obvious she does not have a solid grasp of the language.

The book is, however, well written. The prose is good, it reads quickly and easily because the level is approximately middle-school English (making it perfect for a general English-reading audience unlike more academic books). Hong mixes in amusing personal anecdotes from her childhood and her research process, showing her struggles with cultural competence (such as arriving at an interview with a Starbucks cup in hand, preventing the standard polite serving of drinks to the guest). She uses abundant interviews, as I mentioned above, many are with people who are not easy to access. Yet her writing and research method seems to be a cherry-picking, skimming the cream from the top of the milk approach that obliterates any depth and does not facilitate deeper understanding, and unfortunately the book reads to me as a Korean-American's attempt to profit from the sudden interest in Korean popular culture, or at best a struggle to understand that sudden interest.

Just some random passages to give you a taste before I end this lazy attempt at a book review:

p. 53: On han: "It's the opposite of karma. Karma can be worked off from life to life. With han, the suffering never lessens; rather, it accumulates and gets passed on. Imagine the story of Job, except when God gives him a new family and new riches, he has to relive his suffering over and over again."

p. 77: "Being Korean in America when I was a child was like being a smoker now. We were pariahs with filthy smelly habits that made our friends not want to come over to play."

p. 97: "Building a pop culture export industry from scratch during a financial crisis seems like bringing a Frisbee instead of food to a desert island." (this from where she assigns credit for the gov't focusing on pop culture to Kim Daejung instead of Kim Youngsam, even though it was Kim Youngsam who started the initiatives after the famous Jurassic Park realization).

p. 134 -- on Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi  "Theirs is probably the best English-language site for comprehensive analyses and reviews of Korean culture."  (seriously? they're wrong as often as they are right and they are annoying as heck!)

Actually, to tell the truth, since this book is short and easy to read, it's not that bad a way to spend a couple hours (I read it on a bus ride to Seoul and then part of the ride back home). But don't take the things Ms. Hong says as absolute truth, she's repeating things that have been published often already and scratching the surface on her new observations.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why I Feel Insane Today

Songpa Sandae Noli had their annual full length performance yesterday. That ate up most of my day, taking photos. Am I happy I was taking photos? No. I wanted to be performing, but was asked to take photos, even though none of the photos I've taken in 10 years as a member of the group ever get used officially in programs or anything like that.

Anyway, they just called me and asked to send the photos tonight.

Because that's what I wanted to do after spending the whole day writing a book chapter. The first draft of the chapter is finally done, and this is really awesome work, I'm excited I'll be able to share it (eventually considering the speed of academic publishing). It's on women's participation in Korean mask dance dramas and will be in an anthology on women's performance in Asian traditions. I've just emailed it off to my excellent friend Jena who will help me edit it to meet the deadline.

Now maybe I can have a minute to work on the conference paper that's to be presented the end of this month in Denmark (yay, my first time to Denmark!!!). That will be the conference paper on K-pop cover dance.

And of course, although my students are doing presentations in tomorrow's class and I already have a PPT prepared to fill in the extra time after they finish and before class is over, I do need to prepare for Tuesday and Wednesday's classes.

In other words, I do not have time to review the 500 some photos [edit, on transferring them off the camera I discovered it was 633 photos] I took yesterday and choose the 30 or so best to edit and send to them.





Yes, I tried to say no. Anyway, I did 21 photos (parade, ceremony, first four scenes) and stopped. It's 10 pm. I have other work to do.

Friday, April 24, 2015

LGBT and Whatever Other Letters, in Korea

This is going to be another blog post where I essentially just jumble together online sources on a topic-- in this case, LGBT in Korea. In fact, I think I am moderately educated on this topic, in that I have read all the academic literature in English (none in Korean, but when I'm reading academic lit in Korean, I'm usually reading things related to my own research-- reading academic writing is not fun in any language, but it's more work in Korean). I have also led a two hour class on this topic three times (and in a couple weeks, four times).

Running the Discussion:
I teach this subject in my 교양과목 class (like a liberal arts elective, the students need so many credits of these in order to graduate). I've taught the class in both English and Korean, and each time I've taught it I've given the students a prompt (something sort of simple like "Do you think gay marriage should be legalized?") they need to write on the prompt before class, in brief, in order to get them thinking and ready for discussion.

I lead class as a combination of history of LGBT in Korea (my brief history lesson is based on the readings mentioned below) including the recent politics and major statements on LGBT in and related to Korea and discussion-- however, I phrase everything in a "we're young and enlightened, I know that none of you really care about other people's personal lives" way and so far it has been very successful-- no hateful language or awkwardness has arisen (the way I frame it would make it awkward to say anything very anti-Gay, although students have felt comfortable to come up with non-hate related arguments for not-exactly allowing marriage on the hetero-model). Usually I would not do this. Usually I lead classes where I let students go as far out on a limb as they are willing to climb, mostly because I'm pretty willing to consider anything they say part of their learning process in how to discuss and part of thinking through ideas-- not worth remembering and dwelling over when I've got to choose between rounding up and rounding down a grade. However I worry that if I gave the leeway someone might say something hateful about LGBT and that, well, I think I'd remember it and it could hurt the way I grade each test, assignment, and so on. So I try to keep this conversation away from what I hope would be a fringe opinion. I do, however, show photos of protesters and explain their ideas-- although since I really have a problem with hateful and bullying actions, I must admit I don't give this viewpoint much time in my class. To make it comfortable for the students, a lot of the discussion is based on LGBT and the like in recent media examples (although there hasn't been anything super recently so there better be a new hit film/show because my students are too young to have watched many of those below), asking them to talk about if they'd seen the shows/movies and if they felt the depictions were realistic, or if it had changed how they think about LGBT people. The list includes:

Shows with character(s)themes related to L/G/B/ and T:
“Antique”
“후회하지 않아”
“헬로 마이 러브”
“인생은 아름다워”
“손년, 손년을 만나다”
“쌍화점”
"고봉실 아줌마 구하기" (Thanks Judith!)
“Daughters of Club Bilitis”


Movies/shows that might touch the topic, but certainly are more hetero-minded:
"왕의 남자" (The King and the Clown)
"Coffee Prince"
"개인의 취향" (Personal Taste) (has a gay character and a main character who pretends to be gay)
"Bungee Jumping of their Own"
"성균관 스캔들"

The major readings that I have based my preparation for this class on are:
Ahn, Patty Jeehyun. "Harisu: South Korean Cosmetic Media and the Paradox of Transgender Neoliberal Embodiment." Discourse 31, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 248-72.
Bong, Youngshik. "The Gay Rights Movement in Democratizing Korea." Korean Studies 32 (2008): 86-103.
Cho, John (Song Pae). "The Wedding Banquet Revisited: "Contract Marriages" between Korean Gays and Lesbians." Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 2 (2009): 401-22.
Davies, Gloria, M.E. Davies, and Young-A Cho. "Hallyu Ballyhoo and Harisu: Marketing and Representing the Transgendered in South Korea." In Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power and East Asia. 1-12. Melbourne: Monash Univerity ePress, 2010.
Gitzen, Timothy. "Bad Mothers and "Abominable Lovers": Goodness and Gayness in Korea." In Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices, edited by Patty Duncan and Gina  Wong. 145-57. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press, 2014.
Kim, Hyun-young Kwon, and John (Song Pae) Cho. "The Korean Gay and Lesbian Movement 1993-2008: From "Identity" and "Community" to "Human Rights"." In South Korean Social Movements: From Democracy to Civil Society, edited by Gi-Wook Shin and Paul Chang. 206-23. London: Routledge, 2011.
Seo, Dong-Jin. "Mapping the Vicissitudes of Homosexual Identities in South Korea." Journal of Homosexuality 40, no. 3/4 (2001): 65-79.
Yi, Joseph, and Joe Phillips. "Paths of Integration for Sexual Minorities in Korea." Pacific Affairs 88, no. 1 (March 2015): 123-34.



The media clips that I might use for this class include:
UN Secretary General Ban Gimun stating his support for LGBT
This short film by Andrew Ahn - Dol (I haven't used this yet, but if I had Korean-American students I think I might include this)
Lots of music videos. Personally I love this one: K.Will "Please Don't" -- but I'll also search up any recently LGBT-ish videos
I saw a video by Harisu (part of it) and wish I could find good quality videos of her older stuff
I show this clip of Choi Hanbit (who is also transgender) on Dancing 9
An interview with 홍석천 who I also talk about a fair amount as the first openly out person in Korea.
A clip I found from a TV show on cable called "Coming Out"

Additional information:
Today I found this media article about a performance artist.
A friend shared this photo on Facebook today-- full page anti-gay message in the newspaper.

Sorry, I either publish this now, or it becomes another of those never published blog posts. No, this isn't perfect and doesn't reflect everything, yet, but if you were going to teach a similar class this would get you a long way closer to planning the class.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Field Notes: April 18th at Songpa Sandae Noli Practice

These days I rarely write up real field notes. That's stupid of course. Yes, I'm not writing my dissertation, or revising it at the moment (I have an overdue book chapter for an edited volume to write instead). Of course later I will forget details. So yesterday I actually took some decent field notes and I'm going to actually type them up! Wonders never cease! (Note, that I should be writing the book chapter).

The full length performance for this year is on the 9th of May, so there are only a few days left before the performance to practice. This means that the attendance is higher, and everyone takes things more seriously.

-----------
Today in the morning (11?) 함승헌 took his 이수자 test. I recorded an interview with him about it. He said it was more frightening than when he interviewed for anything else ever in his life, he had to talk about how his life aligned with practice of SSN (as a non-full-time performer), and answer a few questions to gauge his knowledge of the art, demonstrate the basic dance motions, and perform (with just 장구 and 피리 and no one across from him) the part of 취발이. He passed. More details are on the MP3 file.

Because Ham Jr. had done his test, a certain number of people had been around for a few hours already by the time I arrived at 1:45 (practice started at 3). Principally 이한복, 강차욱 (those two played the music for the test), 김영숙, 이병옥 and 함완식 who must have been very proud that his son advanced to 이수자 but I couldn't see any hint of that in his face or deportment. Other people also arrived before me, and shortly afterwards. The 심사위원 who had come for the exam had introduced various conversations while talking with 이병옥 and 함완식 and had infected everyone with an attitude of seriousness about how to best prepare for the full length performance. One of the things they said was that the 서울놀이마당's madang is too large, and if we try to take up the whole thing it loses feeling and looks bad-- they advised that the performance happen in the center with people sitting around outside, as has been done before some years. 김영숙  is going to look into the legless chairs with backs and see if we can get some of them for the viewers.

Before practice started I mostly talked with 김영숙 about a variety of things-- I started off by talking to her about the subject of the book chapter-- women in mask dance dramas. The interview was very unscripted and rambling, I basically stayed next to her and the conversation wove in and out of the topic, commenting on people around us, and various criticism that the office manager (a woman of opinions, no joke) had about other people and recent events. I managed to pull out my voice recorder and turn it on, tucked under my arm. The moment she sees the recorder she gets too reticent, and almost won't talk about anything at all -- even without seeing a recorder she often says things to undermine the value in her words (ex. "I'm not a talented dancer"). There was a ton of background environmental noise, including even the noise of at times 3 or 4 instruments in the small space-- and the recorder was under my arm, not held close to her mouth. And, as I said, the conversation ranged widely. The critical things of course I would never use, but the comments about women doing mask dance drama I need, so I'll just send her an email in a few days with the English content referring to the conversation, and a translation, and ask if she wants me to say "an experienced woman who has been a mask dancer more than thirty years" or if it is okay to use her name. Since what she said was already very curated (on that subject) and she knows I'm writing this chapter and have already talked to a lot of other performers about it, she'll probably agree for me to use her name. If I was confident of my memory, I wouldn't have sneakily recorded at all, but I excuse the sneakiness because I'll show her exactly how I want to use her words and get her permission to use her name before I ever do it. I much prefer what I can do with people like 이병옥, just stick the recorder in his hand, and just easily record in a quiet location.  At one point Yeongsuk and I went to the office, but by then she'd basically finished saying anything about her ideas and was asking me questions about my work situation and when I'll know if I am signing a new contract.

After stretching and basic motions (perhaps 30 minutes, combined), 이병옥 and to a lesser extent 함완식 pointed out some issues. One was confusion over 3 different dance motions with similar names and motions (the difference being the 장단 the motion is performed to, and whether you walk in a circle, or do the motion in place). When SSN does basic motions, unlike other mask dance dramas, such as Bongsan Talchum or Goseong Ogwangdae where everyone does the same sequence of events, the sequence and number of each motion before doing the next motions depends on who is leading. 김명하 was leading, in the front left corner facing the mirror and next to the musicians (이한복 (on piri or daegeum), 강차욱 (on janggu or piri), 윤지희 (haegeum) and another woman who is a friend of Jihee's, I think her name is 김희경, also playing haegeum plus 함완식 sometimes playing the janggu), I was in the back right corner, and over the instruments and space, I could only occasionally hear the call of the next motion, and just had to be quick on my toes so that I wouldn't make a mistake. Each motion is repeated on both sides for two, four, or even a dozen times before moving on. Since most members of the group, including 김명하 are older and their physical conditioning is not very good (they're older than me, and don't do hapkido 5 days a week), by the time they finished most people were drenched in sweat, but I felt like we had really barely practiced some of the motions. After discussion about the three similar motions and trying to clarify the names so that everyone wouldn't get confused, the discussion moved onto why SSN is called a --------- dance. I will have to ask someone, because I thought I'd noted the name correctly, but googling the name doesn't return a result. The conversation then went on to discuss if (or not) SSN has distinctively bold use of the wrist in dance motions. The senior members all denied this, although Ham Sr. brought up the fact that one of the original members at the time of certification had had particularly active wrists.

After this interlude practice of scenes commenced. The first scene was 곤장놀이, after the scene ended 이병옥 emphasized that everyone had to use very precise pronunciation in the performance. The eight monks were each told to practice at home to make their performance more "멋있어요" (in this case we can gloss this as meaning impressive). Next they practiced 침놀이 and after the scene ended 함, 이 and other senior members, such as 이수환 criticized the crucial end of the scene, correctly the delivery and actions of the players "죽든지 살든지, 내가 몰라." After this everyone last focus for a good 10 minutes, then came back together to practice the 7th scene (the first one with 노장). I was extremely happy to see them making all the 먹중 coordinate their motions, because the last two times I've seen this scene someone has been off. After the scene was rehearsed there was a discussion of line delivery "as if you have no mic" because this will match the traditional tone better (and, dare I say, the mics DO fail sometimes).


Crappy cell phone photos of rehearsal

Next the 먹중 (most of them) got a rest and they practiced the 샌님/말뚝이 scene. 다미 will perform as the youngest of the 3 양반, which disappointed me. I would really have liked to perform that role. After they practice there is a long discussion. As with most discussions the voice or authority starts with "I remember when [old teacher so and so] used to do this..." "It used to go like this" -- to actually find fault with others without bringing up the past is much less common and only happens if you're super confident about your opinion (like 이병옥). The discussion goes over where the members of the scene should be, and in what orientation to the audience, Ham Sr. accused 탄종원 of over-action, and 다미 is given feedback both pulled aside (by 장규식 who usually does this role) and by the group. There is a group repeat-after-이병옥 of some of the words (no longer used) so that pronunciation and delivery is correct. A lot of this focuses on 사처. If you drag it out it's a place for the dead, not a pigsty.

Then 김명하 runs through part of the scene as the shaman. Last year the shaman was 이영식, and I am not sure why it's changed. 김명하 will perform in the majority of the 12 acts-- my rough count has him delivery more lines and being on the stage more than anyone else.

There is a brief discussion of final bows (yes or no, carrying a mask, wearing a mask, in costume, only for those in the last scene, etc.). Should we do "fan service"? (Here they mean, should we offer a chance to take photos together when we've got our costumes on). This discussion often involves "다른 단체" (other groups...). And finally it is agreed that after the bow (where everyone is in the last costume they wore), there should be a period of group dance with the audience.

Everyone hesitated to leave, but I live so far away, I bowed and left quickly.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jeju Incident / Jeju Massacre

In a few weeks it will be time for me to teach students about the Jeju Massacre. I don't actually know that much about it-- just the basic outline and main events, most of which are contested. It's one of the super super occluded parts in Korean history. Today, however, I saw a news article about a documentary made by Jane Jin Kaisen, and luckily enough, the documentary is available on Vimeo (go watch it at this link). It starts off a little slow and unconventional, but ultimately I understand why Ms. Kaisen chose to do it that way-- and it works.

Strangely this is just one day after I saved a new article that talks about the Peace Park built on Jeju Island. You can access the article (no pay wall, yay!) on the website of Cross Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review (just click here).

Perhaps this difficult period in Korean history will finally be faced and emotionally processed.

More Links:
Japan Focus article by Sonia Ryang on the massacre (2013)
Earlier article in Japan Focus by Tessa Morris-Suzuki on museums and the Korean War (2009)-- doesn't really get into the Jeju issue, but related to the Cross-Currents article, also.
An academic article on the government's process to uncover the history of the massacre (behind a paywall)
This -might- be the same document as behind the paywall above-- the English translation of the government's fact-finding report.
Human Rights Monitor Korea on the Jeju Massacre (2014)
Excerpts from a speech by historian Bruce Cumings on the massacre. Because these are excerpts I am a little worried the original meaning may have changed a bit.
Detailed article in the Jeju Weekly
Blurb about the translated book Dead Silence with fictional stories of the Jeju Massacre
News article about the Korean (low-budget) film Jiseul about the Jeju Massacre (it won an award at Sundance in 2013)
New York Times article from 2001
Newsweek- Ghosts of Jeju from 2000
History Channel
Wikipedia on the Jeju Uprising (remember, the info here can be edited or mis-edited at any time)

I may add to this page at some point in the future. In the meantime, it's a place where I can bring together various things I want to look at again when I prepare to teach this particular subject in a few weeks.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I was on TV

So, I was on TV and it even looked pretty good. Here's the video:



Translation...

I'll work on it. Basically the larger point is "foreigner teaches Korean culture and loves it, maybe more than we do."


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Survey on K-pop Cover Dance

Do you or someone you know perform K-pop cover dance? Or even just learn it but not yet perform? I'd love to have you respond to my survey. Here's the link. Thank you for your help^^




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grading on a Curve

It's been an angsty holiday season.

The big news has been that after the entire semester was over, even four days after the grading input system was supposed to be online, we were informed that the university was going to grade all classes on a curve. The university previously graded classes of 20 students or more on a curve, and the rest were absolute grading. Overtime there has been grade inflation, and the Ministry of Education has decided to link stats on the universities to the apportioning of spots for college freshmen (as fewer kids are born each year, there are too many universities compared to the number of students, and to make the process somewhat fairer, instead of just letting survival of the fittest proceed, the government has decided to reduce the number of admitted students based on the university's performance in key areas.)

I am against curves on principle because I see them as discouraging students who self-evaluate themselves as less competitive for a limited number of As. They also benefit anyone who had more advantages due to previous investment in education--including time overseas, and attending the best cram schools. Curves don't reward the most improvement. They keep the elite on top, and keep the rest down below, enforcing a larger gap between the elite and the rest than in truth exists.

But right now what I think is really bad is changing the rules of the game after the match has been played. My classes are actually extremely rigorous with many grading points, and I can turn those grading points into a curve. However, the class was not designed to make the curve fair: for example in the Korean Folklore class, the one with the videos, I had the following grading points:


  • Attendance (10%)
  • Participation (20%)
  • A paper on Goseong Ogwangdae worth 10% of the grade. The prompt was to compare in class reading (we read it aloud in two groups) of the dialogue and watching the performance to explain what you could learn from the performance that you could not learn from just reading. It was basically a paper to make students realize the importance of getting actual experience. 
  • Two videos (50% combined including the information on the web pages and the Youtube video page to direct anyone to learn more from our other videos and clarifying their sources). 
  • A paper reflecting on their position as modern people and their experiences with tradition-- the prompt was "How is an ancient culture and a modern world reconciled in your own life?" This was also 10% 
The class was very successful. The students who finished all the work on time ALL scored 90 and above. But now I have to give 30% of the students a C or lower, and those who didn't finish the work does not exceed 30%. This means the student with 90% becomes, suddenly, a C student. That is not right. 

Now I could have used a couple quizzes during this class, made one video, and so on, in order to make the spread of grades wider. But when I had already designed the syllabus as above, and my students made such uniformly good videos, what am I supposed to do? The two papers, only worth 20% of their grades, were also quite good. Of course there was variation-- but the variation was not great. 

My other three classes were a little simpler to grade, but there is always someone who is really losing out in this system, like the woman with a 90 who has to get a C+. 

I have attended two meetings on the issue, and spoken publicly in opposition to the policy (and now wonder if I will pass my next review). I also sent a passionate letter to the president. But it seems that nothing is going to change, very discouraging.
Photo from the Second Meeting


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learn from my Students: Part II-- Videos on Food

My students have made these videos about Korean folklore (broadly speaking). Some of the videos are really inspired, most are good. I'm quite proud of their hard work.

I know that some of you like Korean food, so you should check out these videos, all deal with Korean food:

One student did a double whammy on kimchi. The first video just tells about kimchi, while the second one explains how to make winter kimchi for storing (gimjang).

Another student also did two videos on food-- one is about Korean sauces, or jang and the other is about the gamasot, the all-important Korean pot for traditional cooking.

Another did a video on omija tea-- some photos of my own batch that I made this fall are in the video.

Two videos highlight food eaten at holidays-- the rarely observed winter solstice was the time to eat red bean porridge, whereas the still super important lunar new year was when people ate deokguk.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Exciting Weekend /sarcasm

Because I'm impossibly overloaded at the moment I seem to be gravitating to the idea of doing things that do not help eliminate the items on my list. Like writing down everything I have to do.

This is the list:

  • Edit Chapter 3 (the re-translated chapter) in the book I'm editing
  • Write a thematic introduction to the special journal issue on Curating Korean Culture (four papers, one is mine) (to be released by Acta Koreana in DAYS so I better get it together)
  • Review the editor's proof of my article for the journal
  • Translate Jonghui's MA thesis abstract (didn't ask until he sent it at the last minute)
  • Translate Changyeol's MA thesis abstract (asked in advance, sent in advance)
  • Prepare for Korean Media Class 
  • Provide feedback and scores for Media homework #9
  • Prepare for Korean Folklore Class
  • Grade the Korean Folklore class videos
  • Prepare for 90 minutes of Korean Studies II Class (the rest will be student presentations)
  • Prepare for Korean Culture and Society Class
  • Prepare a one hour lecture for a group of journalists from ASEAN nations (if only the lecture was later in the week, I could maybe practice it in the Culture and Society class, my introductory class for non-majors)
  • Continue chipping away at writing my holiday cards
  • Attend a concert/artist's talk on Sunday that may be useful for my research

and a few other things that are less urgent, longer term, or more private
A photo by my friend Song Cheotnunsongi of me presenting at a conference






Sunday, November 23, 2014

Learn from my students

In my Korean Folklore class I wanted the students work to be for something more than a grade-- so they made videos and the videos and their sources have been uploaded to a common webpage and the videos are on YouTube as well. Most of the videos are really well thought out-- the students did tons of work and I'm really proud of their work.

Today I want to highlight the work of one student, Haejin. Haejin is sometimes shy, and definitely quirky, but she has excelled in this class. I am so proud of her work, I could do a happy dance about it. She went to volunteer at the National Folk Festival and did the basic research for a final paper to be submitted in another class and simultaneously worked on these two videos. The fact that she included actual live interviews with performers is the part that makes these videos absolutely stand out.

Here are the links to her two pages (I want you to go visit those pages, instead of viewing the videos here, that's why I'm only supplying links).

Gangneung Gwanno Gamyeon'geuk
Pyeongyang Sword Dance

Next time I'll tell you about other videos.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Discussing Chuseok

Next week I will go to the KBS radio studios to record a special guest interview for a Chuseok special broadcast (thanks to Eugene for introducing me to the KBS radio host). Chuseok (추석) is the Korean harvest festival, sometimes translated into English as the Korean Thanksgiving, partially because it does include coming together with your family for a large meal. But Chuseok is much more than just a meal, leading me to prefer calling it a harvest festival-- to reflect the large number of activities that people would participate in/watch during Chuseok. [Thursday Edit: I was reading a blog by my friend Eugene (yep, same guy mentioned a couple sentences ago) and he expressed his frustration with Koreans constantly labeling Korean things "the Korean this" and "the Korean that." My mind immediately snapped to several instances of this, including when I wrote the above paragraph on Wednesday. I find no problem with someone saying that Chunhyang is the Korean Romeo & Juliet. The story is similarly tragic, and extremely well known. But there are so many cases where, as Eugene said, it's just ridiculous and ends up causing more misunderstanding than understanding.]

I am writing this blog as sort of a way to get my thoughts together before I have to speak eloquently (I hope) on the radio. In addition, this radio discussion will provide me with an example for my students for the Korean Folklore class I am teaching this fall. One of the main aspects of this class will be teaching my students how to explain Korean traditional customs in an engaging way in English. I chose that focus for two reasons (1). my students have varying personal experience and background knowledge of traditional customs. A few of them are from more traditional rural families, and have a much deeper understanding than my urban Christian students. Through focusing on explaining the traditions we manage to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable for lack of knowledge, or frustrated through reviewing too many things they know. (2). Even if you have the background knowledge explaining things in an engaging way is crucial for growing interest/ re-connecting Koreans to their traditions-- and through learning how to make it interesting in English I am confident my students will also be able to turn on friends and family members with their presentations. Just this Monday one of my students was visiting my office and she told me she repeats everything I say (presumably she means the interesting bits) to her mom, who is a teacher, so that her mom will teach it to Korean young people.

I am a virus. ㅋㅋㅋ
I am infecting Koreans around me with my own attitude that not all traditions should be forgotten.

Okay, first of all, did you realize that there is more than one kind of jesa? (제사)

Jesa -Ancestral Rites
Jesa is one of those terms that Western people hear Korean use, usually glossed as 'ancestral worship ceremony,' or 'ancestral veneration' and often they don't feel comfortable asking more. Especially when a Korean tells them they're really tired because they were awake in the middle of the night doing jesa for their grandpa or their mother. It can feel rude to inquire further. Maybe you did, though, because you're curious and you felt comfortable asking that Korean friend. Probably (unfortunately) you wouldn't learn that much-- and you might get confused because of the different types of jesa and the (somewhat) different activities and motivations behind them. You'd hear about preparing special food, offered on an altar, or at a gravesite, clipping some grass, bowing, and probably an excuse about how your friend's uncle (father's oldest brother) or grandfather is the person who really knows all about it, that your friend just follows along as instructed.

The big types of jesa are gije (기제 or 기일제사), charye  (차례), and sije (시제).

With these three the type you need to sensitive about with your friend is gije -- this is the one that is done on the death anniversary for close relatives. So this might be for your friend's grandmother this week, and two month's later your friend's family might be doing it for his dad, or it could be the next week-- it all depends on when someone died. If the death is pretty recent then it is certainly a sad occasion -- getting together with family and memorializing that dear departed family member. Asking who the gije was for, and how long since he/she passed on would help you assess whether your friend might need some extra emotional support.

Charye is the type of jesa that is done at Chuseok. It's jesa for the relatives of 4 generations (count this from the generation of the family head, so if your friend has a living paternal grandfather this is counted from grandfather). Therefore a memorial tablet should be placed on the charye table for each of those relatives, usually in couple sets following the male line (paternal great grandparents, great great grandparents...). Of course, if by chance someone has died of a generation below the family head (paternal grandfather is alive, but father is dead), then father's tablet should be included on the table, too. So charye includes the recently passed, as well. Because charye is for 4 generations it is sometimes called sasanje (사산제)

Charye  is held four times per year according to the Zhuzi Jiali (주자가례 in Korean), the family rituals of Zhu Xi (12th century, Chinese, the thinker whose brand of Neo-Confucianism became most dominant in Korea's Joseon Dynasty). The four times for charye are Chuseok, Seollal, Hansik, and Dano (or sometimes at Dongji (winter solstice), instead of one of the other four, depending on the family).

So charye is actually literally tea (cha) and rye (ceremony). But don't let your mind go to some orientalist representation of a Japanese tea ceremony-- alcohol is offered (and drunk) during Chuseok. It's earthy, it's gritty, it's real, it's Korean. It's not refined and exclusionary at all. To do charye at Chuseok you usually go take care of your grave site the weekend before (or a couple weekends before, because a lot of grave sites are located on little backroads that can get jammed up if everyone goes right at the same time-- or these days some people will just ask a couple family members to do it, and not perform the grave maintenance as an act of humility because humility be damned compared to the horrible inconvenience of visiting a tomb somewhat near the hometown that probably most people in the family don't even live in any more.)  This grave site maintenance (벌초) generally means clipping the grass and uprooting any weeds. So on Chuseok the family goes to the grave and bows with offered food and drink, but the elaborate table with offerings is at home. So the grave site ceremony is called Chuseok seongmyo and the ceremony at home, which usually takes place first on the morning of Chuseok is Chuseok charye.

Foods for the different charye, sije and gije vary by time of year of the ceremony and by region of the country. For Chuseok special foods include songpyeon (송편) -- specifically the type of songpyeon stuffed glutinous rice cakes that you make with pine needles in the steamer. It may be made with the new rice, and theoretically an unmarried woman who made pretty songpyeon was going to find a good husband, while a pregnant woman making pretty cakes would have a beautiful daughter (if you are wondering if in son-obsessed Korea this meant that you didn't want to even engage in making songpyeon at Chuseok if you happened to be pregnant, you'd be sort of right. After the cakes were cooked, if you sampled a cake and it was undercooked, you were having a girl, and if it was cooked completely, you were having a boy). In Jeolla Province they have a traditional offshoot to Chuseok charye  called olbe simni (올베심리)-- the offering of prematurely harvested rice (rice that isn't fully ripe). Other important foods at Chuseok include Taro Soup (토란국), skewered mushrooms (화양적), and skewered egged and breaded veggies and meat (느름적).
This graphic explains a somewhat standard table for charye. The back is to the north wall, notice that the west side and east side are carefully explained on the graphic. At the very back, the four things there are the ancestral tablets with the names of the deceased. The first row has noodles, rice, soup and songpyeon or ddeok. The second row has meat, savory pancakes, tofu, and fish. The third row has a meat soup, tofu soup, and fish soup. The fourth row has a different type of fish, then vegetable side dishes, soy sauce, and even a sweet rice called sikhye. The fifth row has different types of fruits and nuts and snacks. Then there is the table for ritual incense and alcohol. This is usually a lower and much smaller table. Female descendants are on the west side (left) and male on the east side. If someone is officiating and talking through the whole ceremony, pouring drinks, reminding people how many bows to do, etc. they will be at the east corner of the little table. 

Sije, a ceremony that few Korean families still observe, is the jesa that is done for the 5th generation and onwards back into the past. Sije can be held either on Hansik (Cold Food Day-- in April) or during the 10th lunar month (two months after Chuseok). Sije has several other names-- including 시사, 시향, 묘사, 묘전제사, 세일제, and 세일사. This ceremony is held regularly once per year at the tomb site, traditionally, although these days it is more common for people to eschew going to the tombsite. If sije is held on Hansik it is possible for charye and sije to be held four times total, whereas if sije is in the 10th lunar month there would be five ceremonies-- four charye and one sije.

So those are the three main types of jesa, but it gets even more complicated!
Jesa is Confucian culture, so of course we also have a Buddhist version, called daeryejae (다례재), usually held in the temple to honor monks who have passed, and of course the Won Buddhists always insist that they are not the same as the Buddhists, so they have a jesa just a little different than other groups.
The Catholics have long realized the importance of accepting jesa as a way to harmonize with Korean culture, and the Catholics also prepare their jesa a little differently. Naturally, instead of placing the names of deceased family members on the jesa table, the Catholics place a cross at the center back (so that you are not bowing down to dead people, but to the Lord).
The Protestants long prohibited any kind of jesa. To make it possible for some Protestants who are good Koreans and want to honor their ancestors, but don't want to "worship" them because that would be sacrilegious, there is the hybrid ceremony called chudosik (추도식). There is a good article in English on the topic by a guy who seems to have no idea how to spell his own name. Hung Chull Jang. I'd guess that's 장흥철 but...

Chuseok (beyond Jesa)
So Chuseok itself is actually celebrated on August 15th according to the lunar calendar. (The 15th is always full moon, the 1st is the new moon). The name Chuseok means Autumn Evening, and other terms for the holiday include 가재, 가재일, 가위, 한가위, 중추, 중추절, and 중추가절. To tell you the truth I've only ever heard people use (han)gawi, and jungchu before, but the book I am referring to as I write this paragraph listed those other names, too.

At Chuseok people didn't just cook a lot and bow to the deceased ancestors, they also would predict the harvest (rain=poor crop yields, clouds obscuring the moon completely was a bad sign, but a totally clear night was a very bad sign for barley farming.)

People would dress up at Chuseok in Chuseokbim (추석빔)-- special clothes and accessories. (설날 clothes are called 설빔, 단오 clothes are called 단오장). The clothes would be new, or maybe really well laundered. Because this was right before the cold season started, these clothes would be the new set of clothes to wear for the winter, often quilted 마고자 (a jacket) or a 두루마기 (long coat down to the knees). The special clothing for girl children would include the classic top with striped sleeves and a red skirt.

The alcohol associated with Chuseok is gabaeju (가배주)ㅡ if you were getting excited about trying a new type of Korean alcohol you'd  not previously had, sorry. This was just sort of the generic name for the alcohol available at Chuseok, the only thing special about it was that it might be made from the brand new crop of rice.

Ganggang Sullae (강강술래) is one of the key arts performed at this annual festival-- not that it was ever performed everywhere in Korea until more or less the modern era, though. This art is from the south coast of Jeolla Province. It is a circle dance, generally performed by a group of women (only). The dance steps and the accompanying song are not that difficult, what is difficult is constant flow from one type of pattern to another, including some special ones where the ladies form a bridge out of their backs and another walks along the bridge-- all while continuing the song in a classic folk song style where everyone sings a chorus and individuals sing each verse. Traditionally performed outside on the night of Chuseok (under that big moon), it is also performed at Daeboreum in some parts of Korea.

Particularly because it is preserved most actively on Jindo Island and the adjoining mainland, it is often associated with Admiral Yi Sunsin (the turtle boat guy-- the guy in the middle of the street in armor at Gwanghwamun). Some scholars try to link them together, but there is no credible evidence.

Ganggang Sullae is usually divided into three parts by speed of the accompanying drumming. There may be games inserted within the performance such as 개고리타령, 남생아놀아라, 고사리 꺽자, 쥔쥐새끼놀이, 청어엮고 풀기, 기와밟기, 덕석몰이, 꼬리따기, 문지기놀이, 가마등, 수건놓기, and 외따먹기. Each of these games has a connection to some sort of traditional activity, and in a long, full-length performance (usually just once per year), all these parts can be seen but otherwise the entire list will not be performed. Most scholars believe that the entire dance was performed to bring the gods pleasure, but that the deeper religious significance has been forgotten. The art is protected under Korea's Cultural Property Protection Law as Intangible Cultural Property #8.

Chuseok itself is an agrarian festival-- most of the various activities associated with it were connected somehow to the land and agricultural life. One such is geobugi noli (거북이놀이)-- the turtle dance/game. The turtle costumes were made from millet stalks, and usually two people would get inside the turtle's top shell and walk from home to home with a turtle leader and people playing pungmul music. The head of each house was to invite the turtle and troupe inside to play and dance, and the troupe would wish for the long life and prosperity of the family who lived in that house. The household should also feed and provide drinks for the performers. Apparently this tradition is still alive nearby where I lived in Gyeonggi Province, but to the best of my knowledge it's only a re-enactment, now. Also it's worth noting that the turtle, as a long life creature, was associated with these prayers for long life of villagers. A very similar practice elsewhere in Korea was called sonoli (소놀이) with pungmul and two people inside a cow costume. Another activity was a weaving game, called gilssam noli (길쌈놀이). And having sossaum (소싸움) or ox fights was also common. Don't worry the oxes fought each other, they weren't goaded like in the European style. These fights are still going on in places like Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbukdo.

For me what is interesting is two other performances-- that of Bak Cheomji noli (박첨지놀이),  and that of Songpa Sandae Noli (송파산대놀이).

I am going to start my first day of my Korean Folklore class with Bak Cheomji's tale. We'll be reading the story in translation. So this story is actually a puppet play with 9 human characters, a temple, a serpent, a hawk and birds, as well as the funeral flag bearers, carpenters, funeral casket bearers, and the mourners. The puppets in Korea are manipulated from below, generally on a single rod. The play is performed by two groups-- by the Namsadang group (and then it's generally called Ggokdu Gaksi Noleum), and by a group from Seosan. The story is the same, but the Seosan version is registered as regional cultural property for Chungcheonnamdo, instead of as a national one like the multi-act Namsadang (National Treasure #3). The puppet play, like most of the mask dance dramas, is not very complimentary to the upper class yangban, and particularly addresses the 처첩관계 -- the relationship of wife and concubine. In the regional version Buddhism looks pretty good-- fervent prayers to Buddha give the character Sogyeong his sight back-- but in the Namsadang version Buddhism is more heavily criticized.

Of course the characters are quite rude to each other. Here's a passage from the Namsadang version where old Pyo Saengwon is reunited with his old wife (a common scene in mask dance dramas, too). The old man criticizes the appearance of the old woman.

꼭두각시:  Do you know why this has happened? I must tell you. To look for you, I climbed a steep mountain in Gangwon Province where I ate acorn jelly. That is the reason by face has changed to its present appearance.
표생원: What? What are you talking about? You! You harlot! Are you trying to tell me that you have so many pockmarks on your face because you ate acorn jelly? I ate mounds of corn and acorns when I was coming to 산수갑산 from 백두산 in 함경도. But I don't have a single pockmark on my face. My face is as smooth as if it were planed. What an absurd and hollow liar! [pauses] However, if a dragon appears out of a small ditch, we must still call it a dragon. And even if the guardian of a temple is made of straw, we must still call it the guardian of the temple. According to this logic, I must now admonish 돌몰이, my concubine, to greet my wife. [He brings them together]. Well. Wife. Let's stop talking nonsense. We must discuss our future. You have already passed your sixtieth birthday. I am eighty years old and poor. In addition, we don't have a single child. What a great failure! Aren't you sad about this, too?
꼭두각시: I haven't seen you for many years, but this has been the cause of my worries.
            [translation by Oh-Kon Cho in his excellent book Traditional Korean Theatre]

Songpa Sandae Noli was a mask dance drama often performed during Chuseok festivities. But I have written about it repeatedly in the past, so I won't go into it more here. [Some previous posts on Songpa Sandae Noli 1 2 3 although those won't be particularly basic information].

[To write this post, in addition to a large number of things stored in my brain that I accessed, I also used the Encyclopedia of Korean Seasonal Customs, published in 2007 by the National Folk Museum of Korea, and I've been reading a very nice book called 제사와 차례.