Tuesday, July 31, 2012

11 months in music...Kpop edition

The 11 Kpop tracks that I played the most this year. Girl group bliss ahoy!

  • 2NE1 - "I Am The Best"


"Hate You" (This is dedicated to Zuko in Wawautosa, WI. No, of course I don't hate you, but you gotta love that animation. Cartoon girls walloping each other in a post-apocalyptic cityscape = awesome)


Dal Shabet - Bling Bling. (This is the first Kpop song I remember hearing. The GS25 near the EPIK orientation would played it a few times when I came in there to buy stuff. I love the fast disco groove and the "Oh let's go" hook of the chorus)

Secret - Move. (60s and 2010s pop bliss. Listen for the surf guitar in the background)

Girls' Generation - Hoot. (From their 3rd Mini Album. Bought the same day as 2NE1's 2nd Mini album at the E-Mart in Chuncheon. I loved them right away: The Bond Girl look drives me wild. Somehow they threw some Austin Powers into the mix as well. All 9 girls dressed up like this? Sign me up! The song's good on its own, too.)  

Wonder Girls - Nobody. (An oldie by Kpop standards. Loved this one right away)
Kara - Step. (For anyone who feels like partying right now)

Brown Eyed Girls - Sixth Sense. (Driving and militaristic)

T-Ara - Lovey Dovey. (Catchy)

Bonus tracks: Miss A

"Bad Girl Good Girl" (All of my students know the expressions "You don't know me!" and "Shut up!" because of this song)

"Goodbye Baby"

2NE1 and to everyone who loves to grooving Kpop

This is part 1 of "July in review"

"You should see them live. They're much better live."
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

I saw the inimitable 2NE1 on 29 July at Seoul's Olympic Park and it will rank among the best shows I've ever seen. I'd been itching to see a Kpop show as soon as I'd started listening to them and other groups last year, but despite the abundant TV music show performances, Kpop concerts don't occur as often as one might think. They're often expensive as well--this so was no exception, but it had to be done because I've rocking their records all year and because it's a unique cultural experience. Sometimes one has to put some money down because that's the way it has to be. Some bands are just that good. My girlfriend, Rochelle, and her friend Illie concurred.

2NE1 went on without an opening band and played for two hours to a packed house. Despite the stadium setting, the sound was among the best I've heard in a large venue. There was none of the blurred, over-reverbed qualities of most stadiums or large concert venues. 2NE1's backing band came through loud and clear and so did the group's vocals. We were in the back and we couldn't see CL, Minzy, Bom, and Dara too closely, but the two big video screens on either side of the stage made up for it. It helped that 2NE1 moves with the energy and charisma of AC/DC's Angus Young; they strutted, danced, and jumped around the stage with authority. Moreover, the show featured an excellent light show and stage effects. I should note that this marked the first non-rock show I'd attended, so I'm not too used to costume changes, special effects, and video screens, but even so, it was well done. Despite the running and jumping, the show stayed well away from camp and overblown theatrics. It was high energy party action from start to finish. 2NE1's band (especially the drummer!) deserves mentioning here for holding down the taut and rocking grooves. My head was bopping throughout the show.

 And then there's the songs: rocking, hook-filled nuggets of electro-pop bliss. They opened with the badass "I Am The Best" and proceeded to play every track from their smokin' 2nd Mini Album, most of their 1st mini album, 1st album, and their two recent singles "Scream" and "I Love You." Not a song in the mix. It flowed like a particularly excellent mix tape or best of compilation. The "I Am The Best" opener showed a break from their usual opener of "Fire," the hard charging opening track of the 1st Mini Album. Illie and I took great surprise in hearing a live rendition of "Scream" because they'd originally sung it in Japanese and we didn't think they'd play it here. Such surprises equal concert bliss. A mark of a quality live band is how they pace their shows and what songs they play. Including rare or non-album tracks is one of the things that makes going to concerts such a thrilling experience, because even though I enjoy the hits, I also enjoy the deep cuts equally well.

2NE1 and Girls' Generation represent the first two pop artists I cared about after Amy Winehouse, and while Girls' Generation has plenty of good songs, it's the 2NE1's attitude and presentation that sets them apart from the Kpop pack. They're four attractive girls who eschew "cute" and "sexy" and go for crazy patterns on vibrant costumes. They show skin, but that's because they want to--not because it's what they should do. Not only that, but they're out to rock as hard and have as good a time as they can--yes, I said rock because that's exactly what they do. They sing driving, uptempo, and damned catchy pop songs, yes, but as their live show proves, their songs seethe with rock and roll energy.

Top photo: The concert goodies: one of four notebooks (one for each member), the ticket, and two sticker sheets.

Here's "Ugly" from their recent live album Nolza.

Also from the Nolza album and DVD: the show intro and "Fire."

The "New Evolution Tour - I Love You" towel.

*As you can see, I didn't leave without hitting the merchandise booth. I was a disappointed at the (glaringly) small selection of t-shirts. They didn't have a tour or album cover shirt for sale. They didn't even have a photo of the group, which seems strange given how photogenic they are. Their tour towels seem to make up for the t-shirts though. How many other groups have tour towels?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

June in review / Gangneung with Sunny... Pt. 2

Sunny’s wife cooked a delicious breakfast of doenjang jjigae* for us on Sunday and we lingered around the TV for a while before it came time to begin the day’s activities. We spent the afternoon at Ojukheon House, a place where Sin Saimdang and Yulgok lived. They are two famous historical figures. Sin Saimdang is known as the “Mother” of Korea and you can see her portrait on the 50,000 bill. Koreans remember her for her art, calligraphy and filial piety.

Yulgok himself was a prominent scholar and statesman during the Joseon Dynasty. You can see his picture
on the 5,000 won bill. Below you can see a picture of his biography that hangs on one of the house walls. As you can see, the House sits inside beautiful park land. There are trees, shrubs, and flowers everywhere. We  had a great time wandering around and looking inside the various buildings. Like most other historical sites in Korea, admission costs only 3,000 won (less than $3), which is quite reasonable given how much there is to see here.

That 3,000 won also grants you admission to the Gangneung Municipal Museum. It has muted lighting and has large airy exhibits that are filled with artifacts from the past. It’s a marvel at how far Korea has come in the past hundred years. I know that I could say the same thing about the USA, but Korea’s made quantum leaps in housing and infrastructure since then. On one wall, you can see a picture of Gangneung in the early 1900s—a big collection of huts and houses along the ocean shore. The city is the 3rd largest in Gangwon-do now.

Some pictures of the grounds.

This picture’s for Dick in Wisconsin. I saw these pipes and tobacco accessories and thought about when we used to smoke cigars and pipes together.

This picture’s for Kara because I thought you might like the clothes that Koreans used to wear. Check out the shoes, too.

For Drew (Kara’s husband) and all of my fellow hardware nuts: check out the old saws and squares. Carpentry’s an enduring interest of mine, so seeing this stuff brought back memories of miter boxes and high school woodworking classes.

For Mom: here’s a traditional kitchen. Note the big cooking pots.

Here’s me inside an archway.

This is the fabled “Mother of Korea”

Here's Yulgok.

Here’s the 5,000 won bill.

Here’s the 50,000 won bill.

Korea: where the new collides with the old in strange ways.

More information here…

*Doenjang jjigae (된장 찌개)

Expect more information about various Korean dishes in the future because it’s occurred to me that I haven’t written much about the delicious food here. Perhaps you’re wondering what I’ve been eating all of this time and if I’m surviving. Perhaps you’re wondering how it compares to Chinese and Japanese food. What do you want to know? I can tell you that I eat Korean food every day and I love it.

I love it so much that I hardly miss Western food. Sure, there’s the lack of Silk soy milk and granola, but as for the old mainstays of soups and sandwiches, they’re not missed. Sure, they taste good, but kimbap, jjajang, and other foods have taken over now. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Interlude: best quotes of the semester

As the semester comes to a close this week, here are some of the best things the MS and HS students have said during class.

S1 - Whats your favorite color?
Liz Black.
S1 - Why?
Liz - Im black.

My favorite instrument is saxophone because it sounds luxurious. A HS 1st grade boy during class.

Discussion question: What is exciting to you?
Jae-suk (HS grade 1 girl) - Sleeping
So-young (HS grade 1 girl) - Eating

Discussion question: What can you do at the bank?
S1 (HS grade 1 boy) - Shoot a gun
S2 (HS grade 1 boy - Rob it

Discussion question: What will you do this weekend
HS grade 1 boy Drink. (After 5 seconds) Juice.

One 3rd grade MS class had a discussion on double eyelid surgery, so I did the next lesson on beauty. I wanted to get the students' thoughts on beauty and how they viewed people of different sizes. Koreans can have specific standards about beauty, particularly in the "V-line" face and "S-line" body, so I thought it'd be a good topic to address.
    • When it seemed as though the students only thought skinny girls could be pretty, I asked if a fat girl could be pretty. One girl, Eun-sun, answered with "Only to her boyfriend." Later on, Dae-rae said "Wisdom is inner beauty."

Bacchus is the Korean life force Sunny the math teacher. Bacchus is a Korean energy drink. Its a less extreme version of 5-Hour Energy shots.

Im going to the park so I can fight. An HS 1st grade boy.
(From a lesson on going places. The target expression was variations on Im going to ~ so I can ~.)

You look like a grandfather. Its good! Da-hye, an HS student.
(Upon seeing the mustache I was growing in March)

Mr. Choi the co-teacher on hangovers: We met with [teachers] yesterday and we drank from 10:30pm. Yesterday was no problem. The problem is today.

Monday, July 2, 2012

June in Review / Gangneung with Sunny and his family, Pt. 1

A journey into the past world of records and audio equipment.

June got capped off with an excellent weekend on the east coast city of Gangneung. My colleague Sunny the math teacher invited me to spend the weekend there with him and his family. Like many of the Korean teachers here, Sunny stays in Wasu while his family lives in another town. He sees them on weekends. I felt honored that he'd take this time to have me come and visit. We had a great time.

The rainy season's begun here, so it rained all the way from Wasu to the outskirts of Gangneung. It wasn't raining in the city at least. This occasion marked the third time I've been on the east coast of the country. The first trip happened when a co-teacher and I drove to Yangyang for a teachers conference and the second time was a teachers overnight trip to Sokcho before Christmas.

Sunny and I left Wasu in the morning and arrived in the mid-afternoon. We stopped for a delicious lunch of galbi tang in Chuncheon on the way. We met his lovely wife and cute daughter at their apartment and took off for the nearby Charmsori Gramophone Museum and Edison Science Museum. He said he'd been here once as a high school student and had enjoyed it. Indeed! I was geeking out left and right as we went from room to room here. Over 100 years of audio equipment stands inside those museum's walls and it was a real treat to see the hi-fis of yore. Our guide played us tin foil recordings, music boxes, and in one excellent instance, a 78 of Glen Miller's Orchestra doing "In The Mood." This place had everything from wax cylinders to DVD players. They had plenty of reel-to-reel tape decks and those kitschy 8-track pod players from the '70s as well. The 8-tracks were especially fun to see in person. I've still yet to hear an 8-track in all its glory live though. No matter--the 78s and the music boxes were more than enough to fuel my inner music and history geek. 

In front of the Charmsori Gramophone Museum. It is attached to the Edison Science Museum. Fellow audiophiles will love this place. It has rooms full of gramophones, record players, music boxes, and audio equipment. Fantastic collection! 
Among the many gramophones there.