Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunday in Seoul

We went to Seoul to eat fish and chips, and drink cider, open a bank account and get out of Buan. In transit to one of the many places we visited this weekend we saw this person dancing in the subway. There is so much I want to say about this video so here's what I got.

The song is 'Shy Boy' by the band 'Secret' - click on this text to watch the music video.  Tom and I haven't really talked about K-Pop on the blog because it messes with our Indie Music Cred, but it's a big part of the culture here especially considering I spend most of my week with people under 14. The K-Pop industry has been booming since the early 90's, and there's a set formula.

Aspiring stars are selected and 'apprenticed,' put through a 2-year grooming process where they are coached to sing, taught choreography and physically sculpted - whether through exercise or plastic surgery. They are made into a band (some of the bands are HUGE, like Super Junior with 13 members) and the Magic Power of the Internet helps make them big. 

K-pop songs are formulaic too, there's a catchy chorus (usually including a few English words), weird fashion decisions and a dance routine which is faithfully memorised by the fans. I've used a few k-pop songs in my lessons and the kids go nuts for them, usually they leap up and sing and dance along. I haven't really been clubbing in Korea, but a friend told me that young adults will dance along to the videos during a night out. If you want to learn more about k-pop I utterly recommend and their Music Monday videos.

The next part I want to talk about may not be as obvious. The person dancing is male. I'm by no means an expert on LGBTQ rights and I usually leave the social commentary up to Tom, but in South Korea I imagine it's a bit like the 1950's. There are only a handful of openly gay celebrities, one transgender star who was the SECOND person in South Korea to legally change her gender (in 2002!) and any gay bars are generally restricted to Jongno, Shincheon and Itaewon in Seoul.

Queer couples do exist but frequently will get married to cover it up. One of my friends told me that his coteacher talked about the apartment he shared with his boyfriend, when they were away from their respective wives. My own coteacher has expressed shock that I know queer people (let alone having friendships with them, scandalous!) so when I saw this guy dancing I just had a huge flood of WTF. He'd made a real effort to cover his face and continually adjusted the mask while he danced. We saw a few expressions of disgust in the large crowd of subway patrons gathered around but I didn't really know what to make of it.

Confucian culture values homogeny and conformity, and Korea does Confucianism better than anywhere else in Asia. Anyone considered 'different' is generally treated like an outcast. Tom and I (and all of our Waygook friends) get stared at when we're out in public. Disabled people are either ignored (like the deaf pupils in my classes) or seem to work as beggars, selling small things on the street or pushing music players through subway cars. To cross-dress, dance and be out in a public place during daylight hours is just so un-Korean. It reminded me a little of Cuba Street at home, which was kinda nice.

So, apologies for the unholy mishmash of k-pop and queerness. Back to talking about food and travel, eh?

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