Get Polka-y

July 16th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

So, there’s a new Weird Al album out. Which is not exciting as it once was.

However, there is one part of each Weird Al album that I do enjoy — the polkas. He usually has a medley or something like that. I don’t know much about his new album, but I do know that he has a polka cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

Imho, this is an awesome thing.

You can listen to it here.

I’m a part of Korean music!

July 7th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Hey, here’s a Ha Dong-kyun song that I totally missed out on, called “From Mark.” It’s like my song!

Okay, so it’s not about me. But it is a good song. And given the lyrics of the chorus — “I will fly away … from Mark” — it sounds like the anthem for every woman who ever broke up with me.

Or, if you prefer, here is a version of the song on Youtube with the lyrics translated and on screen:

Snowpiercer redux

April 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Over the last few weeks, there’s apparently been a big resurgence of people interested in my old Snowpiercer review (thanks to all for the comments, by the way). I guess that’s mostly a function of the film appearing in more and more territories around the world.

Of all the countries around the world, Snowpiercer is easily doing best in China. It opened there in mid-March in No. 2, then falling to No. 7 in its second weekend. After two weeks, it had made about $11 million.

In Italy, where it opened at the end of February, it made $1.2 million.

This weekend, the movie will be opening in Germany … and I gather by the incoming links to this website that there is some interest in the movie there. I have no idea how that will translate into box office, but it is interesting to see.

Of course, Snowpiercer does not come out in the United States — in a limited but unedited release — on June 27.

Captain America goes global

March 29th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I just watched the latest Marvel superhero film,  Captain America: The Winter Soldier — which was quite enjoyable — but what really jumped out at me was a scene when Steve Rogers (the Captain) writes in a little booklet about things he needed to check out, having spent 65+ years frozen. He added a Marvin Gaye album, and above that there was Thai food. But higher up on the list, I noticed there was the movie Oldboy and footballer Park Ji-sung.

Sure enough, in the United States, people saw a rather different list.

A pretty amusing little big of localization, I thought. I’m surprised Hollywood doesn’t do that sort of thing more. After all, when you are spending $150 million or whatever on a blockbuster, why not add a couple more dollars and CGI in something local for each market?

When the aliens destroy some city, I bet people in England would love to see London blown up, and people in France could see Paris blown up, people in Japan could see Tokyo blown up, and people in Korea could see Tokyo blown up (joking).

Anyhow, Captain America. I wonder how many countries got their own customized list. I’m sure sites like Comicbooknews will be tracking them all soon enough. It was a fun little idea.

Korea’s real estate: 6 impossible things before breakfast

February 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

While there is a lot to like about Korea, its economy, people, etc., there are two major issues that totally stymie it: education and real estate. They are the two biggest contributors to inequality in Korea. And they are the two areas that are completely wrapped up in their own mutually exclusive paradoxes, basically because everyone is so busy arguing over how to treat the symptoms that they do not understand the disease.

Today, real estate is back in the spotlight, as the government wants to relax anti-speculation regulations in order to jumpstart the real estate market. Good luck with that.

All this talk of Korean real estate being “hot” or “in a slump” completely misses the point because the housing market here is besieged by two contradictory needs:

  1. To lower prices, so apartments are more affordable.
  2. To keep prices rising, so the real estate market stays active.

Making matters worse, Koreans overwhelmingly use their apartment as their primary investment/savings tool, much moreso than in most countries (74% in Korea versus 42% in Canada or 25% in the United States). So to burst the bubble would ruin a lot of people.

But apartments in Korea are so expensive — the average home price is 7.7 times the average income (versus 3.5 in the United States), and that’s just nationwide, in Seoul that ratio is much worse — that rising prices would ruin a lot of other people.

Clearly, the country needs to deleverage household debt, but everyone cannot deleverage at once without causing a recession. So what is the solution? I’m no economist, but the only thing I can see would be letting inflation rise. Like in many countries these days, Korea’s inflation is persistently running below expectations, a sure sign that demand is slack. But if the country were able to get inflation up to, say 4%, then over a few years, that home price-to-income ratio could come down without reducing household spending.

Or maybe there are other solutions. But clearly, continually yo-yoing between pushing up the real estate market and then clamping down on it is a strategy doomed to fail.

A-ri-a-ri-rang, Here-I Here I am …

February 7th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Just a little update on what is going on with me and my own work. I started a regular gig this week as a guest on Arirang Radio’s Sunnyside Up. It’s on 7-9am weekdays, and my segment airs around 8am an Wednesdays. Host Jenny Cho is very nice and the whole crew looks unusually solid. I’m quite happy to be on board.

They don’t seem to update their Audio on Demand feature much, but you can listen to the station in realtime here.


UPDATE: Oops. Forgot to mention that I also got a plug in the most recent Canadian embassy newsletter in Korea. You can download it here.


Friday morning links

January 17th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

There’s a very fun story in the Korea JoongAng Daily about the movie The Attorney coming on Monday. I’m really looking forward to linking to it. But in the meantime, here are a few things I’ve found interesting recently:

  • Google may be just the No. 3 most popular search engine in Korea (after Naver and Daum), but it is on the rise, while the local sites are stagnant or declining. Nate is bleeding particularly badly. (Korea JoongAng Daily)
  • For a great example of all that is wrong with government trying to promote pop culture, here’s a collaboration between YG Entertainment and the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning.  (Korea JoongAng Daily)
  • In related news, here’s an interview with Korea’s minister of science (and ICT and future planning) talking way too much about “creative economy” (Korea JoongAng Daily)
  • Trying to save 8,000 year old rock art that spends half the year underwater because of a dam (Korea JoongAng Daily)
  • Very fun article about the rise of tattoos in Korea. I’ve already regretted never writing that feature on tattoos in Korea for Newsweek, back when I had the chance. (Korea JoongAng Daily)
  • Korean Film Archive has released a list of the top 101 Korean films. Was supposed to be 100, but they gave 101. Whatever. Still, it’s an interesting list. Plus the KFA is going to restore the classic film Aimless Bullet (aka Obaltan) — I have it on DVD and, while interesting, the quality is pretty terrible. Plus the KFA has found a copy of a music documentary/film from 1968; I really want to see this and hope it is full of good performances by the singers of the day. (Korea JoongAng Daily)

Meanwhile, the weather outside is frightful. No, we’re not experiencing brutal cold or a winter snowstorm. But we are in the middle of a huge chemical fart from China. Thanks China for messing up the air!

From the KMA:


Strangely, if appropriately, the Korean website for those color maps of the pollution is called “Kaq“, for Korea Air Quality. But it sounds like “cack“, because that’s pretty much the air quality today.

Between the Lines: Editorial Cartoons — Daebak

January 7th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

One of the more difficult parts of the day at my newspaper is working on the editorial cartoons. For one thing, Korean editorial cartoons tend to be somewhat more oblique than the cartoons in the West. They also can contain a lot of information that is difficult to convey quickly to a non-Korea expert. And language issues — puns, nuance, etc. — make getting a usable translation very difficult. And, to make things just that much harder, the cartoon tends to come to us late in the evening, when deadlines are rushing up loudly and madly like the edge of a waterfall.

Which leads me to the point of this post, today’s editorial cartoon in the Korea JoongAng Daily:

In the original cartoon, President Park says “대박” (Daebak), or “Jackpot!,” as it has been most commonly translated (including in our lead story).

In response, the DP Chairman Kim Han-gill says “소박 맞았다” (Sobak majassda). Sobak being the opposite of Daebak. The idea being, the president is bragging she’s a winner, while Kim complains he’s a loser (because President Park did not mention anything about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the National Intelligence Service).

But how to express that in a cartoon? “I’m a winner” and “I’m a loser” is way too literal and dull. “Jackpot” is a fun word, but what would Kim say in response? I was toying with “I got jacked”, but that just wasn’t funny and too open to misinterpretation. In the end, we ran out of time and went with “I did it” and “You did me in,” in a vague attempt at parallelism.

Sadly, about two hours later, as I was relaxing at home, I finally thought of the right response for Mr. Kim.

President Park: “Jackpot!”
Kim: “Busted…”

Ah well. Better luck next time. Because in the bottomless well that is journalism, there is always a next time.


Mark’s Adventures in Jeonja-land

December 26th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Well, it looks like Yongsan’s electronics market, Jeonja Land, has seen better days. I took a walk there a couple of days ago, looking to pick up a couple of things, in what was probably my first trip there in five years. It wasn’t pretty. I guess the Internet age and online shopping has pretty much killed the need for a giant cluster of electronics (especially overpriced electronics sold by surly, dodgy shopkeepers).

On the other hand, there are more old vinyl shops on the second floor than ever. That’s pretty cool.

Yongsan’s old main building (where, if memory serves, I bought a 166 MHz computer for around $1,000 back in 1998) is all closed now. It is only open so you can access the walkway to Yongsan Station.

Here’s the biggest building in Korea.

Well, it would have been, if the development project hadn’t fallen through.

Even the new electronics market in the main Yongsan Station building is not in very good shape. The area set aside for electronics keeps getting smaller, while other types of shopping move in and take up the slack.

After shopping I did some walking around in the stretch from Yongsan to Seoul stations. Most of the old colonial buildings are gone now (not that they were in great shape before), but you can find a few here and there. I think what I like most about that neighborhood is the random things you run across. Like this Lotte E&C site, which apparently uses some old building.


It’s a neighborhood full of these sorts of little alleys, with a mix of old buildings and exposed wires.

And, as an added bonus, here’s a great door. Yes, up there on the third floor, with the little gate in front of it. I can only assume there used to be a fire escape there or another building or the like that was torn down.

 That’s all. Just a random walk and a bit of shopping in a cool part of town that has seen better days.


Exploring Hongdae 1

September 12th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Against my better judgment, I descended into the heart of Hongdae last Saturday evening. I mean, I like the Hongik University area a lot, but Saturday night the center of that neighborhood can get a bit out of control.

But Saturday, the Sangsang Madang arts space was holding a screening of the short films by Namkoong Sun, a talented young filmmaker, so I decided to check it out. You might know her music videos for (“Pacific” and “Secret Stories Told by a Girl in an Opium Den”), as well as Neon Bunny and others. The screening was good fun, and several actors from her shorts showed up.

The after party was evidently going to go a lot later than I had the energy for, so I excused myself around 11 and took a walk through Hongdae, just to check out the neighborhood and see what it is like these days. No surprise, things were pretty crazy. Can you believe that, way back in the late 1990s, you could hit most of the Hongdae bars in an evening (well, at least the good ones)? But somehow the neighborhood keeps growing.

The park was, as usual, full of people and music. Perhaps this sign is as good a metaphor for Hongdae as anything:

It reads, “So not to inconvenience local residents, please no more live music in the park after sunset.” This photo was taken about 11:30pm, as yet another band started a set.

Anyhow, what I was there, a group called Monster People were playing. They are quite good — kind of an Interpol-like modern rock sound — so if you have the chance to catch them, I quite recommend it. Here’s some of their music over on Soundcloud:

The vibes were all pretty good that evening, at least while I was there. People were pretty blitzed, but I guess drunks don’t get belligerent and start fights until after midnight.

Looking at all the changes to Hongdae, the explosion of restaurants and cool things, I think I might start blogging about the neighborhood with some regularity. Every time I walk down an alley, I’m amazed by what I’m finding (in a good way, mostly). It’s fun to be back.

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