Friday, April 03, 2009

This blog has moved!

Because I have grown tired of Blogger's interface, its look, and the trouble I have with posting and editing photos, I moved my blog to Word Press. Korean Folk Songs was always only loosely based around Korea, anyway, so I decided to title the new one simply Bart Schaneman. The new blog is going to be for original writing, photography and links to: journalism and stories I publish, the short stories I write on Rain Follows The Plow and news, music, literature or anything else that catches my eye.

I think it looks it better already. Visit me at and have a look around. As always, comments and feedback appreciated.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thumbing it

Hitched my first ride in Korea this past weekend. Went down to Gyeongju for some fresher air and to see the city. (It's really nice. It was my second time and it's one of my favorite places to visit in Korea. The city has a lot of history and is well preserved. I've heard there is a city ordinance regulating building height in the historical areas. Almost the Korean version of Kyoto. Also where I took the photo on the right.) We got stuck at the bottom of Namsan with no taxis and were waiting for the bus when I stuck out my thumb. The second car that passed us stopped. The man spoke a little English, he had been hiking as well, and drove us back to Bomun Resort where we were staying. We paid him in five Hersey's kisses.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jeonju: Korea in a city

Jeonju is the city of "good food." Restaurants around the country brand their dishes as "Jeonju" as in "Jeonju Bibimbap." This is an acceptable distinction, but don't get stuck on it. The food is good there -- more side dishes, fresher ingredients -- but without that distinction the city would have to devise an even further manufactured selling point. It wouldn't work. No one would come to Jeonju merely for a park, or a folk village or a mountain where a few martyrs were killed. So they say come for the food.

It is the capital of Jeollabuk-do, located at 35° 53' north and 127° 14' east. 645,000 people live in Jeonju, and at 79 square miles, that gives the city a population density of 8,101 people per square mile. On average, 15 people are born and eight people die; 10 are married and 3 divorced every day in Jeonju.

The city is surrounded by seven mountain peaks. The most noticeable is Moaksan (which is adorned with the underrated Kumsan Temple) and then, traveling outward, the horse ears of Maisan, the suspension bridge of Daedunsan and then on to Deogyusan and the resort ski town of Muju. I have visited them all on multiple occasions and they are all good for hiking, photography and a home-brewed bowl of makgeolli drank as a reward for reaching the summit.

An hour in a west-bound bus will get you to the Yellow Sea. Gyeokpo and the outlying islands are indecorous and unadorned -- rough, fishermen habitats. Daechon, where once a year the foreigners of Korea do their best to imitate swine, has cheap hotels built on the beach.

But no one comes to Korea for the beaches. We are here for many reasons, some of us more aware of those reasons than others. (Bob Dylans line that were all running from something comes to mind, which has been countered most pointedly by the friend who said that perhaps we are all running TO something.) We are here for the people and the culture, hoping for a transformative experience in some small way. Were hoping that our travels will expose us to the world and allow it to work on us, putting into motion an act of alchemy that we can emerge from bettered. If that is indeed true, then the less like our homes our new place is the more potent the alchemy.

Compared with other, bigger Korean cities there is little Western food, few Western entertainments. Although it is quite possible to have a day nearly identical to a day in an American life -- by eating at American restaurants, shopping at American stores, watching American movies and drinking American beer -- it is not possible to have that one essential American quality of consumption: choice. You are limited to a few chain Western restaurants -- Outback, T.G.I. Fridays, and worse, McDonalds. You laugh at eating at them when you get there -- you never did when they had them in your hometown, why start now?

After a few months you give in and for a while its good. But it only takes two or three undercooked and overpriced hamburgers to expose the lie. Then you begin to choose Korean. You start looking for good, Korean food. Through the food you make a bond with the culture. You learn the words for the things on the table and it feels good to order them in correct Korean. It might give you motivation to learn the language, or it might not -- what matters is that you like sitting at the table with all the side dishes and trying everything. You find the dakdoritang restaurant near Jeonbuk-dae, your friends find dak galbi restaurants that are far too spicy for your stomach, the lady that runs the hole in the wall restaurant has the best doenjang and chamchi chiggae you will ever taste.

Most importantly, dont listen to the marketers. Dont go to Jeonju for the bibimbap. Stay away from Lotte Department Store and the turtle ship and the paper museum and all the other ways the city tries to sell itself. No, go to Jeonju because it is KOREA in a city. It is workaday and busy; it is hard-drinking and relaxed. It is modern and historical; it is ugly and beautiful. It is a city for those who have already acquired a taste for Korea.

Go to Jeonju, where I went to great dinners at the duck restaurant near the church in Kumamdong -- 5-course meals with 15 people on their knees drinking soju. Jeonju, where I ate hanwoo with farmers and blue-collar workers in Seosindong, who were there because it was the best meat in the city. Jeonju, where I got drunk with foreigners at the great expat bar Deepin -- small and smoke-filled and the bartenders know everyone. Where I walked under the bridge on the Jeonju River, where the old men play Go-Stop and drink makgeolli, and I photographed a man in a hospital gown hooked up to an IV, smoking and gambling. Go there if you want to say you saw Korea, ate real-deal Korean food, lived liked a modern, average Korean. Go to Jeonju -- its Korea in a city.

It takes about three hours from Seoul. Buses run every ten minutes from the Express Bus Terminal. Cost is 11,000 to 16,000 won.

Photos by me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Over at Fuck You, Penguin, there's a pretty funny post about South Korea and puppies. Read it (and the comments) here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Singing highway

I would love to know where this is, if anyone has that information. (The clip looks dated, but it has to be from the last two or three years. It was posted on You Tube in 2007.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tigers coming back, but not in South Korea

Robert Neff posted this first over at the Marmot's Hole. But I'm too fond of tigers not to give them as much hype on the blogosphere as I can.
It’s been decades since anyone has seen a tiger in South Korea. The final tiger was captured either in 1922 or in 1944 on the southern tip of the peninsula, depending on whom you ask. But in some places, their ghosts still cast shadows across the landscape. Ribbons of morning mist cut into deep valleys, setting apart the dark mountain ridges one after another like black stripes across the skin of the land; bears, the tiger’s partner in Korea’s creation myth, still wander in some mountains; and autumn’s tawny, dappled hillsides make it especially easy–and slightly unsettling–to imagine the tiger’s presence.
Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

You are what you do

I saw the following on Saturday at the Seoul Arts Center, when attending a traditional musical. It was written on the back of a photograph at the Charles Eames exhibit. My career has been the subject of much of my recent thinking. From #010:
"Don't take a job with whose objective you do not agree and don't take a job as a stepping-stone to something else...By following these guidelines, you have a chance of bringing your entire experience to the jobs you do and avoiding a lot of misery."
-- Eames

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snow fight!!!

Members of South Korea's Special Warfare Command take part in a severe winter season drill, to improve their combat abilities in cold weather, in Pyeongchang, east of Seoul. Reuters

I can laugh at Nebraska, but you can't

From the Onion:

Rural Nebraskan Not Sure He Could Handle Frantic Pace Of Omaha

NORTH PLATTE, NE–Lifelong North Platte resident Fred Linder, 46, revealed Monday that he doesn't think he could cope with the fast-paced hustle and bustle of Omaha, the Cornhusker State's largest city.
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Here's what made Dylan, Warhol, et al. great

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bright glaring disappointment

This review is forthcoming in the Korea Herald.

Bright Shiny Morning

By James Frey

Pp. 502

HarperCollins 2008

It is one of the sadder tales in modern publishing history.

It goes like this: a man, James Frey, writes a book that is autobiographical in nature about addiction, about finding a way to make it through a dark spell. He tries to sell it as a novel, shopping it around to publishers and they all pass on it.

So he re-brands it, calls it a memoir, says the story is “true,” and naturally a major publishing house bites. He gets a contract and the book is released. It sells modestly until a media mogul, a woman who reaches people primarily through a television show, tells her audience that it is a great story of recovery. She puts her stamp of approval on it and the sales figures skyrocket.

The writer gets rich and noticed. In fact, he receives too much attention – a website that is owned by a television station picks up the book and fact checks it. They find inconsistencies in his story and expose them.

The media mogul then asks the writer to come on her show and embarrasses him before a live television audience and millions of viewers at home. He loses his publisher, readers are offered refunds, and he is asked to write an apology to be added to the beginning of every book.

Then he decides to write a “novel.” It’s his attempt at American Literature in the modern sense, in the (shudder) New York City sense. He creates characters, he plots it, he weaves story lines, he stylizes the structure – and, most pointedly, he manufactures it in a way that obscures autobiography. Make no mistake, the book is not about him.

He tries to evoke a sense of place (Los Angeles) and make that place the canvass for his contrivances. It’s nothing if not ambitious, and no one’s going to publicly embarrass him this time. But the problem is the book doesn’t work at all. When playing it this safe and kowtowing to the modern publishing industry, writing what they consider a novel takes all the truth out of the story.

It’s not a poorly written book. His style is digestible; it is easy to tolerate his lack of punctuation and run-on sentences.

For an example of his writing here is Old Man Joe, a homeless man who is 38 but looks like he is in his 70s and lives in a bathroom:

“The boardwalk is loud, crowded, dirty, parking is a nightmare, it smells like fifty types of food, almost all of them fried. It is a world unto itself, and the homeless population is a world within that world.

It’s dawn and Old Man Joe is awake on the beach he’s staring at the sky slowly turning blue, it’s slowly turning blue. He came this morning with the hope that he would learn why, why but he hasn’t learned anything it is as it is every morning he’s learned nothing. It’s already warm somewhere in the mid-70s. The sand is cold against the exposed areas of his skin, his hands, his ankles, neck, the back of his head. There is a light breeze. The air is wet and clean and it smells like salt and tastes like the ocean he takes deep, slow breaths, holds them, exhales, takes another.”

BSM is structured with four unconnected storylines—the homeless man, an actor, a Mexican-American maid, and a young couple from Ohio—told in pieces, intermixed with historical facts, smaller stories and sociological concerns.

As Frey writes that L.A. has more artists, writers, etc. than any other city in the world it’s impossible not to think for now. Frey has said he was trying to put himself in the same fraternity as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Mailer and Bret Easton Ellis. Yet he ignores that all of those writers wanted their work to have a quality of permanence.

It’s almost as if Frey was proving to us that he had done his research, or that his research could make up for his lack of real expertise on the subject. The facts and figures, those dry parcels of information, might have been put to better use as unconscious or subliminal details that shaded the narrative and the characters, rather than merely bloating the length of the book.

I should have a greater understanding of L.A. because of the characters. But because Frey does not write from the perspective of common people, it’s hard to know the city. The novel would have benefited more from it just being the characters themselves--the people--than all those breaks in the action, all those facts and dates.

There isn’t anything Frey doesn’t think he can write about. He writes about surfers:

“Many grew up in landlocked states without salt water they saw surfing on TV or in videos they read magazines filled with pictures of long-haired men in shorts dripping wet surrounded by beautiful girls. Some tried it on family vacations and found themselves others have known it throughout the entirety of their lives. All of them find peace and joy alone on the water a serenity contentment to which they devote their lives.”

“All of them find peace and joy?” To even use words like that – serenity, contentment—what was he reading for research, a screenplay for a Hollywood film about two kids who move to L.A. from the Midwest and fall in love with the ocean? It’s a myth, and for all of Frey’s attempts to avoid clichés, he falls face first into too many.

One of the points of the story of L.A. is that it is a big, impenetrable city where people don’t just show up and make it big, much less understand it. Frey moved there from Cleveland and lived there for 8 years to make it as a writer. His story, though not in the novel, is also one of ambition and hope -- that moth-eaten idea of the American Dream. His ambition to become a “great novelist” isn’t that much different than the ambition of his characters, and it’s precisely what harms the novel.

Frey has said he merely tells stories and it’s ridiculous to have to worry about the designations, whether it’s a novel or a memoir. If that is indeed his stance, then I would think he would have written something closer to truth.

I would have loved the story of “Frey’s Redemption," and I’m happy for him that he came back from all that media persecution, but I’d be happier if this was a better book. I don’t see why he didn’t just try to do what “A Million Little Pieces” did again but call it a novel. He sold out to the world of “academic literature” and we’re all worse off. There was more truth in one page of AMLP than in this entire book.

Monday, January 05, 2009

We're the places that we wanted to go

I forget where I found this, or who sent it to me, but I like it very much.
I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

—from "The Moon and Sixpence" by W. Somerset Maugham, 1919

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Clean-up on aisle 2008!!!

Here's a year-end story Matt Lamers and I wrote for the Herald.
Few would dispute that the top story of the last year was the extent to which the foreign community pulled together. Whether it involved raising millions of won for charities, forming social clubs, joining the Taean oil-spill cleanup, feeding the homeless, or teaching English to underprivileged children, foreigners joined their Korean communities in different ways and in record numbers.

Koreans and expats rushed in unprecedented numbers to the national call for help in the worst-ever oil spill off the nation's East Coast near the end of 2007. That cleanup, which brought together U.S. military personal, English instructors and foreign professionals, lasted through much of 2008, resulting in the quick revitalization of a devastated region.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The books I read this year

Here's a chronological list of what I got around to reading in 2008. As always, it wasn't enough.

1. The Razor’s Edge—W. Somerset Maugham
2. Lost Illusions (Part 1: Two Poets)—Honore de Balzac
3. Memories of My Melancholy Whores—Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Travels With Charley—John Steinbeck
5. A Man Without a Country—Kurt Vonnegut
6. The Rum Diary—Hunter S. Thompson
7. Winesburg, Ohio—Sherwood Anderson
8. Factotum—Charles Bukowksi
9. No Country For Old Men—Cormac McCarthy
10. The Dream of a Common Language—Adrienne Rich
11. What is the What—Dave Eggers
12. The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor—Marquez
13. Tao Te Ching—Lao Tzu
14. Chronicles Volume #1—Bob Dylan
15. Lady With Lapdog, and Other Stories—Anton Chekhov
16. The Rum Diary—Thompson (2)
17. The Book of Tea—Kakuzo Okakura
18. Poor Folk—Fyodor Dostoevsky
19. The Maltese Falcon—Dashiell Hammet
20. Children of the Volga—George Bruntz
21. The Dangerous Summer—Ernest Hemingway
22. What Happened—Scott McClellan
23. White Noise—Don Delillo
24. Nexus—Henry Miller
25. Slouching Towards Bethlehem—Joan Didion
26. V for Vendetta—Alan Moore

There were some great books in there. "The Rum Diary" made me roll on the floor with laughter, the Dostoevsky was great, as was the Delillo and the Didion. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably have to be Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley." It wasn't the most remarkable piece of writing, but I loved the story. I'm on the last pages of James Frey's "Bright Shiny Morning" and I'll carry "The Emotional Brain" by Joseph LeDoux over into 2009. Anybody want to share their list?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What happened to Conor Oberst?

I've been reading a lot of year-end music lists this week and almost none (actually, none) of them include the Bright Eyes frontman's record. Was it really that bad? I admit, I'm biased -- Bright Eyes has too much to do with my "formative years" to be objective -- but I liked it. Especially "Lenders in the Temple." I'd put that song in a top 50 of 2008 list. Probably even toward the top.

In a year of over-production and hyper-stylized dance music, we didn't have enough well-worded songs. Maybe the darkness of Bon Iver took up too much room for other lyrically focused artists. That was a really large record. Or maybe Bright Eyes and Oberst fans wanted him to be equally as dark, which this record wasn't at all. But that's not really fair. We can't expect our artists to suffer needlessly for their art, can we? I mean, if the guy wants to be happy and healthy and that's how his music comes out, then we can't really fault him for that. I still think he's better with words than 99 percent of songwriters out there.

UPDATE: This useless magazine has "Moab" at 31, right after "Pork and Beans" by Weezer, and before "Everyone Nose" by N.E.R.D. He's in more trouble than I thought.