“I can’t believe the Koreans would do this to me…still Nwankwo, think of the royalties…”
“…wait, what…they don’t even have a WORD for royalties?”
“I can’t believe the Koreans would do this to me…still Nwankwo, think of the royalties…”
“…wait, what…they don’t even have a WORD for royalties?”
I have actually been feeling a little bit frightened this month due to an unusually high number of birth announcements that I’ve been receiving, so this piece of stationery couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
On a serious note, this is definitely the most disturbing piece of stationery I have ever seen. Please note the warped perspective created by that alarming wallpaper and lurid carpet; the slightly shrunken cat (a figment of the girl’s imagination?); the heartbreaking fact that there are 2 cupcakes on the table; and finally, the ‘lonely girl’ herself, driven to insanity by ‘birth announcements’. It’s not so much ‘Lonely Girl’ as it is ‘Korean Teenage Psychosis Induced By Unbelievable Social/Cultural/Biological Pressure To Reproduce Before The Age Of 30’.
Unfortunately for you (and yet fortunately for me) this is not a post about eating local ‘delicacies’ – although live octopus/dog might be happening soon, so stay tuned for THAT. No, this is a brief post about a peculiarly violent Korean (children’s?) cartoon that I have been transfixed by for a while now.
There are several types of bus in Korea (local, intercity, express etc) but all of them have seem to have the same sort of set-up when it comes to TVs. There’s two per bus and both display the same thing in synchrony, which is a series of about 5-10 mini-programmes that plays on a silent loop. The series will maybe include adverts, maybe a K-pop video, maybe even a brief cookery tutorial: but what it ALWAYS includes is an episode of ‘Larva’.
Now, I’m no scholar of cartoons, the bloody recent history of South Korea or ‘Larva’, but I can tell you that there is a fairly common sort of theme to the episodes that I have seen. We have our heroes: quite simply, they’re two larvae. One is big, fat and yellow; the other is small, thin and red. Eric and Ernie, Laurel and Hardy, Timon and Pumba. These two limbless shambles live in a sewer that has a grate above it. Each 2 minute episode hinges around a new presence in their world: maybe another creature, something that falls through the grate, or some trash that happens to be there.
From that point, there are two basic narratives:
1. The larva try to take advantage of the new item/creature in their world and suffer the consequences.
2. Someone tries to take advantage of them and again, the larva suffer the consequences.
Either way, the larvae suffer. Here’s an example of the kind of sheer grimness that I watch on repeat approximately 5 times every time I get on a bus:
So, it’s quite funny, but also pretty macabre! The episode starts with them trapped in a web, and maybe you might think this would prompt some sort of breakout…but no! They just get eaten. Other episodes have ended with the larva being hammered into the ground by a hammer made out of ants; stung repeatedly by an irate bee after stealing his honey; paralysed by a parasitic wasp, presumably so that she could lay her eggs in them; splattered by a watermelon after a skateboarding accident; and most chillingly and recently, being shot at repeatedly with grape seeds by a furious beetle, whilst hanging in the air and tied up by rope of some kind – it was basically a firing squad, children’s cartoon style.
I can’t really think of a similar kind of set-up in any Western cartoons that I have seen. The Roadrunner cartoons are similarly hyper-violent, but as with Itchy and Scratchy, the premise is that they fight between themselves and that there is a particular dynamic to that. However, with these two hapless Korean worms they are very much in it together till the bitter end – and it’s actually the outside world and their own terrible attempts to forge ahead that result in them experiencing perpetual doom.
As far as this being somehow indicative of Korean society goes, I just find it staggering how little hope there is for the larvae. Arguably similar cartoons which have a recurring conclusion also lack hope – but in the case of something like the Roadrunner cartoons, do we really HOPE that Wiley Coyote eats Roadrunner? Probably the opposite. We want him to get blown up and run over and all the rest of it, because he is the antagonist, the ‘bad guy’. Perhaps that’s the strange thing about ‘Larva’ – it doesn’t really have bad guys and you swiftly realise that there’s no point in cheering on the good guys. There is only the survival of the fittest, of the biggest, of the better: and the larva are frankly rubbish.
Anyway, enough about dark Korean children’s cartoons: here’s a great song by Jorge Ben. I first heard this song whilst perched on a very comfortable tongue-shaped chaise longue, which is probably why I like it so much. That and it’s an absolutely awesome track. Muito obrigado Kieranu!
Last Sunday, I actively participated in a regional Kendo tournament. It was my first Kendo tournament since I started ‘the way of the sword’ back in October and it was a steep learning curve in many ways. Here’s how it panned out:
I woke up at 7am and swiftly got ready. I waited for Mr Kim and his son, Blare, to pick me up in the parking lot outside my apartment block. Scenes of glorious victory were wafting through my mind as I practised a few strokes.
We got to the place itself at about 8.30, customarily early. It was a beautiful sunny day: the weather in Korea at the moment is approaching a tipping point, where the previously very hot and dry days turn into hideously hot and humid days. I am currently dreading that point, as it is already preeeeetty hot.
As in the previous tournament that I had attended, The Master had brought several disciples: 3 young padawans (2 boys and a girl), Mr Kim, Blare, Mr Che (a new and experienced addition to the club, a 2nd Dan) and myself. There was also an entourage of parents; and in Mr Che’s case, a wife.
The venue was much like the previous one – a large sports hall, converted for kendo purposes. The hall had been divided into 4 sections, each section set out for kendo battles. This basically means that white tape had been laid down to mark out the ‘ring’. There was also a large banner adorning the front of the hall, and tables laid out for judges and kendoists of repute.
I noticed several familiar faces: Kim, who had come to teach us earlier in the year was there, as was the smoking buddhist (who was wearing a ridiculous hat and looked as though he had been fishing). Also in attendance was the supreme master of the area, who I trained with a couple of months ago. He is a highly genial man, with a demeanour that suggests peace and wisdom: although I was comprehensively slapped about by this genial man when I trained with him. His own disciples (who were equally adept in slapping me about) were also there.
The first thing we had to do was find out when we were all competing, and in what category. The padawans were on first and were duly prepared by their parents and the Master, who by this point had donned the official red tie that belongs to those who judge the kendo matches and award the points. Mr Kim was in the 40-55 year old category and would be competing later. Mr Che was in the 30-40 year old category and would also be competing later. I was in the 20-30 category and would also be competing later. Here is what my draw looked like:
At the point when I recognised my name, a young-ish lad nearby said “Daniel?” I turned around to him and said “Ne”, which means yes. He couldn’t speak any English, but he was essentially telling me that I was his first-round opponent. He was about 2 inches shorter than me and looked in good shape: his hair was quite sensible. We shook hands and his handshake was limp; but that didn’t mean anything, as handshakes in Korea tend to be limper than the stern British equivalent.
From this point on I was permanently scanning the room to see what he was doing, and to see how good he might be. From a very early point on I could see that he was good. His movements were graceful, deliberate and as they ought to be. I began to entertain the idea that my superior reach and height (which The Master had been bigging up in the week before the tournament) might not be the secret weapon that I had hoped it would be when faced with an opponent of his skill.
At THIS point Mr Kim informed me that the categories were solely organised by age: that is to say, someone who has been practising since, say, October last year, could be pitted against someone that has been practising since they could stand, as long as they were the same age. Mr Kim found this amusing, and I shared in his amusement, but I also began to feel less confident than I had done at 7.45am when I was waving a stick around in a car-park.
So I chewed all this pre-fight information over and settled down to watch some of the action that was going on around me. Here is a video of two young pups slugging it out, as judged by The Master (the judge to the left of the screen):
As the morning ebbed away, I began to grow more impatient at not knowing when I would be competing. All three padawans had succeeded and would compete again after lunch. Mr Che had, disconcertingly, been eliminated already. This was disconcerting because Mr Che is about 5 times better than I am at kendo. Lunch loomed large and the hall as a whole took a breather.
We went outside and sat in a circle on the pavement. The parents had brought assorted foods, as had Mr Kim, and we sat and shared it all out. Someone offered me a donut right off the bat, as obviously that was the only thing amongst all that Korean nosh that could possibly appeal to my delicate English palate. I ate it politely and continued to eat the other stuff anyway, which was almost all more delicious than the sorry donut.
I was feeling pretty annoyed at this point. I hadn’t really wanted to be eating so soon before a competition, and I was feeling tired anyway (recent increase in social activity/boozing has resulted in Sundays being a fairly flat sort of day for me). The time was approaching for me to fight, and I warmed up after the lunch, feeling tenser and tenser.
I was sitting down in the hall, wondering when I might be competing, when Mr Che came over to me and in virtually no English, indicated that I was on NOW. I hastily got my stuff together and legged it over with him to the corner of the room where I would be fighting. At this point it was a full on panic: I was convinced that I was actually late and that everyone was waiting for me. Someone calmed Mr Che down and told him that I had time to get ready. This ‘time’ turned out to be about 30 seconds. Mr Che basically grabbed me and pushed me through a crowd of people. By this point, I had my helmet on, and my peripheral vision, and 20% of my ability to hear things, had gone. It was all very disconcerting.
Mr Che pushed me to the front, where I was waiting for the previous match to finish. It finished. I stepped up to the plate and faced my nemesis.
We got underway. I can’t really remember much of what happened exactly. He was very fast. I ploughed forward doggedly, but his ability to evade anything that I threw at him was apparent. When we did clash, we clashed in a hearty manner, like 2 pints of beer at a wedding. At some moment, he won the first point. I don’t really know how: I think he possibly hit me on the wrist. This meant that he needed one more point to win the match, and eliminate me. Kendo, when practised competitively, is a best of three sport: cruelly short some might say.
Here’s what happened. There is no video of the first point, which is perhaps not a bad thing, because I’m fairly sure this, the second point, went better for me:
So, he totally won: I’m the one with the white ribbon on my back, he’s got the blue ribbon, so when those blue flags go up, that’s a point to him. When I look at this video, I don’t feel too bad about it really. He was very good and very fast – his winning strike was well struck and he basically deserved it. His footwork was far better than mine and that’s pretty much the main thing that I think I need to work on. My goal of trying to hit him on the head and making sure that I went for that in an unequivocal manner was achieved – I just couldn’t actually hit him, but in terms of my own technique, I was going about things correctly; just not quickly enough.
It was pretty disappointing, but I got over that fairly quickly: Mr Kim had lost too, and although Blare managed a maiden tournament victory (after 4 previous attempts), he too was eliminated in the next round. The girl padawan managed to win her entire category and although this was largely due to the fact that there were only three competitors, it was still something to celebrate.
We received a cool Kendo t-shirt for our troubles (something I had wanted for a while) and we also received a foldable, portable, foam seat – so it wasn’t all a waste of time. There was time for one more ceremonial picture of the gang of losers, and then we packed it in and went home. I have another tournament next month: I will be playing the theme from Rocky on repeat in preparation until then.
“To my beloved Chicken,
There was a time where I didn’t believe in love. I really thought it never existed, but this is the time that makes me want to thank you. Thank you for everything, because it is you that taught me love, and how to love. Before, I feared love. But now, I know I can’t go on without love. Not any love, but your love, my love, my only, my one. I know you might fear my love. Here I am telling you to not fear it, but to have it. Out of all the things money can buy and life can give, my love to you can not and will never match. Because it is you who I live for and will die for. My eyes open to see you and close to picture you. You run wild in my mind, You stay still in my heart. My soul you share and my body you hold. Forgive me if I stop writing, but I must, for I fear words written on paper can not describe what I honestly feel for the obsession of my love, for you my love.
Today, tomorrow, forever. I love you. I love you.
This convinces me that there is some element of ‘punnery’ going on in some quarters in South Korea – it’s just that the puns are often a little bit half-baked, if you’ll excuse THAT pun.
Following my blog about the tragedy of Darrell Kramer yesterday, the unstoppable force of the internet has once again collided with the immovable object of life. An intrepid friend of mine took up my closing line (“I simply couldn’t find him”) as a challenge, and set about tracking down the elusive and mysterious Darrell Kramer…
The paltry and absolutely un-romantic nature of such a challenge in the 21st century has been completely exposed by the fact that my friend simply googled ‘Darrell Kramer’ and came up with the following blog.
Please do click on that link there, it’s quite extraordinary. Not only has someone blogged about THE SAME DARRELL KRAMER: the writer seems to have a eerily similar experience to the one I had. Darrell’s tragic aura is noted, his time spent in LA is recorded (something he actually told me when we briefly discussed public transport, but I omitted that from the tale) and even the fleeting invitation to track him down on Facebook is there. It’s the very same Darrell Kramer.
But this isn’t all: not only has the internet obliterated the writerly sense of mystery that I feebly tried to create, it has also provided, with the same ridiculous ease, a video of the man himself. I’m effectively destroying my own poetic license by advertising this to you, but here you are anyway, judge for yourself whether you think my character depiction was accurate:
The video is, deliciously, absolutely insane. I want more. I wonder whether he just lurks on subway platforms, waiting for suitable candidates for his conversation. I wonder whether he lied about any of the things he told me. I wonder if the tennis bag that the writer of the other blog spoke of was empty, or filled with severed heads. I wonder what would have happened if we had started talking about tennis: as I am a big tennis fan myself, the fact that he likes tennis so much is somewhat unnerving for me, I’m starting to feel like Darrell Kramer could be my own piteous Tyler Durden, or perhaps The Ghost of Korea Future…
At this point, my interest in Darrell Kramer is completely ovewhelmed by the force of the internet. Not only will Darrell Kramer find this blog if he ever googles his own name (which some have already speculated is a likelihood), he will also be able to track ME down. I have a Krameresque sense of unease about this. I feel a need to reach out to someone that I have never met, because I am aware that they might perhaps read these words and take them the wrong way, so to speak. The impossibility of me being able to do this genuinely via this medium is something that has filled me with helplessness.
It’s something that has undermined this endeavour of mine from the beginning and something that I have pondered on in recent weeks. It was a relative luxury to write about people like Mr Kim and The Master in the beginning, fairly safe in the knowledge that the linguistic fog between our worlds would more or less guarantee that they would not read my words about them (not that I said anything malicious or anything like that). It was also a luxury to be thousands of miles away from anyone that could possibly question my depiction of events as being overwrought or inaccurate.
These luxuries are beginning to lose their gleam as my life in Korea becomes more permanent, and the task of writing becomes more and more of a tightrope act. The last few weeks of my time in Korea have been, on a personal level, perhaps the most intriguing of all my time here thus far, and it is no coincidence that this has meant that I have written the least since I arrived.
But this should surely be secondary to the intrigue and, in all seriousness, joy that meeting and writing about someone as peculiar as Darrell Kramer brings me, and hopefully the people that end up reading this stuff. So if I should ever coincide with Darrell again in the bowels of Seoul, make no mistake, I will surely report back – I merely hope that his opening line isn’t “So you like tennis too right….?”
PS Thank you Tintin for finding that blog, this has truly been a cosmic internet experience!
I was waiting to take the subway today when I noticed a bizarre looking man haunting the platform. He was Western, but bore no hint of the easy affluence that 99% of anyone Western in Korea bears. He looked like he’d sleepwalked his way into the station: his gait was uneven, his hair looked unwashed and he generally had the air of a man that had been lost for some time and given up looking.
I inadvertently made eye contact with him, and he held his stare as I looked away. The train arrived and I got on, and I lost sight of him as I found my spot to stand on the carriage. By the time I looked up again, I could see him staring at me from the other end of the carriage. His face was narrow and his eyes were large. Although his eyes were wide open, he looked like he had not slept enough. He had started to walk towards me through the people on the carriage, and although I had the feeling that the looming conversation was probably not going to be too enjoyable, I took my earphones out in preparation.
“Where are you from?” His voice was American and I guessed New York: it was certainly very nasal and he looked at me intently as he asked me, with his head slightly lowered. He was balding from the forehead up.
“England” I said, as if to say, ‘ aha, how interesting it is that I’m from England’.
“But is your FAMILY from England?” He pressed me, he wasn’t satisfied with my answer. At this point I began to wonder if he was Jewish, and whether the guy had made such an intense beeline for me because he (like many others before him) had thought that I was Jewish.
I gave him the usual spiel about my lineage, ‘half-English, half-Colombian, yada-yada’. Everyone must have these stock blurbs that they have to spin out every so often: I wonder what’s going on in my brain when I’m repeating the same thing for the thousandth time: I would hope it’s doing something else at the same time really.
“Yeah you look kinda Latin”. I agreed with him. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Buffalo” he said. “That’s North of New York right?” “North West” he said. “But I’ve got family in Eastern Europe and in Israel too”. I expressed interest non-verbally.
“Do you know who you look like?” he said. “Go on” I said, my interest piqued. I must admit, I love it when people play this game with me. Over the years I’ve had David Baddiel, David Schwimmer, David Blaine and virtually any vaguely Jewish looking person with dark hair and glasses who’s called David. Sadly, I think David Baddiel is the most accurate of the David Trinity.
“Elvis Costello” he said, “you know, with the thick rimmed glasses and dark hair”. I was a bit disappointed because I don’t really like Elvis Costello for some reason, not sure why. He explained that he was a big fan and reeled off some detailed information about the bands that Elvis had played with, casting aspersions on some and bestowing affirmation on others. I said something like ‘He’s bigger in America than he is in the UK’ and that was met with a sense of doubt that was becoming increasingly characteristic from the sleep-deprived rodent-man.
He asked me how long I’d been teaching in Korea (I’m not sure at what point we’d confirmed that we were both English teachers, it’s essentially a foregone conclusion whenever you meet another native English-speaker here) and I told him, 6 months. I reciprocated the question and he said 4 years. I asked him if he liked it here and he said it was ok, as if to say he’d had better: “The problem is that I don’t have a Korean girlfriend, I have a FiliPINO girlfriend and I’m just knee-deep in….”
He stopped himself from going on and looked down and away, helpless. This was the kind of thing that I was expecting from the moment that the conversation began. “Knee-deep in….?” “Ahhhh I mean she’s got a kid and she’s over there and I’m trying to get her to come here and I have to send her money and….” He broke off again, looking no more or no less helpless than before. “You’re never knee-deep in anything good are you” I said. He seemed to like that.
He started to talk about other bands that he liked and then I told him that I had to go because it was my stop. He looked like he wanted to carry on talking and he seemed to go up another gear of consciousness as the conversation was ending. He told me to add him on facebook as we shook hands, and that his name was Darrell Kramer, with two l’s and an e. I haven’t added him: not just because it’s far easier to write about people if you’re not friends with them on facebook; but also because I simply can’t find him.
At the moment, I eat out pretty much all the time. It works out cheaper that way and it’s also quite a bit tastier than my own efforts with local ingredients. I am by no means giving up on becoming a culinary king of Korean cuisine; but at the moment I just can’t make the rice like the guys at the bibimbap places can, let alone the actual main dishes.
So I’ve had plenty of opportunities to write another ‘Massida!’ recently; it’s just that when I sit down to eat I tend to forget that I need to take photos! Before I know it I’m halfway through a delicious meal, ruing my innate singlemindedness when it comes to eating.
Well, on Saturday I managed to stave off my appetite long enough to take some snaps. I was nursing a slight hangover and in that state I tend to reach (somewhat shamefully) for a McDonalds. So I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and head for South Korea’s McDonalds alternative: Lotteria.
Lotteria is owned by Lotte: a company that makes Tesco look like the local greengrocer, in terms of their sprawling share of the Korean domestic market. They are involved in finance, food products, amusement parks, cinemas, hotels, housing, oil – they even own two sports teams. Anyway, Lotteria is their fast-food chain, and it is essentially McDonalds by a different name; even down to the colour scheme of their logo.
This is Lotteria Yongin, although there is a Lotteria in Dunjeon too. Like McDonalds, Lotteria also offers a locally influenced menu (the Bulgogi Burger is quite sensational) and, much like most restaurants in Korea, offers home delivery. The mind boggles to think what would happen if McDonalds and most restaurants introduced home delivery in the UK, but that’s what you’ve got in Korea. The sight of a heavily clad delivery man on a scooter laden with food zooming to his next destination is a very common one indeed.
Anyway, back to the meal: I went with the Giant Double Burger, resisting the charms of the ‘Hanwoo Lady Burger‘. I was given a waiting buzzer (for want of the technical term) and sat down to await the call.
It’s really common to get given these in Korea, especially when waiting for a coffee. If you’ve not encountered these things, they’re basically bits of plastic that flash and vibrate when your order is ready, so you go to the counter to pick it up. As usual in Korea, any opportunity to use technology is hungrily snapped up.
Speaking of snapping things up, check out this beaut:
This tasted more or less exactly how it looks: ok and mass produced. The tomato on the burger deserves a special mention, as it had the distinction of tasting vaguely real. The beef patties were probably superior to those of McDonalds, although that’s hardly an accolade. The fries were hot and not too salty, which was a bonus. The bread dissolved into the mash of chemicals in my mouth and to evaluate the bread would be a bit like evaluating the taste of the fizz in the coca cola I drank. Bread’s not South Korea’s strong point in any case.
As good as anything McDonalds ever produce: it wasn’t disappointing, I didn’t feel violently ill afterwards and it was actually reasonably filling. So Lotteria and the Giant Double Burger get a whopping 4/10.
Holy moley, it’s a health and beauty shop called ‘Tony Moly’.
It’s quite an amusing name for a shop, especially because ‘Tony Moly’ is quite probably a reference to toning moles – ‘toneh moleh’ is more or less how a Korean would say ‘tone mole’.
It’s taken me 5 months of seeing this shop to make this connection, so I think ‘Tony Moly’ is the subtlest example of Engrish that I have encountered thus far.