ツクツクボウシ

The humidity embraces you like a long lost memory of being an infant. Or is it like stepping into a sauna? Perhaps it’s more like how the track hits your eardrum like a slug to your chest? However one wishes to describe it, summer in East Asia is a physical presence. Omnipresent. It fills all of your senses. From the sweat trickling down your back to the sounds of the cicada chorus ringing in your ears. To me, a summer without the drone of insects isn’t a true summer.

This corner in Miyakonojo always made me think of summer for some reason.

This corner in Miyakonojo always made me think of summer for some reason.

Years in Miyazaki without an air conditioner acclimatized me somewhat to this type of weather. I became quite comfortable with just a fan and an open window. My apartment facing south, free of the glare of the summer sun during the day, was a great help. Summer in Canada is too cold for me now. But it’s a low-activity sort of environment, the subtropical heat. That warm embrace saps ones energy. Outdoor activities that don’t involve the beach or a pool become unappealing. The bicycle sits in the corner of the apartment, waiting for October to come. Sometimes a trip to the grocery store happens just to walk slowly down the frozen food aisle. The tedium that is the shopping mall becomes the most interesting place on Earth thanks to their always-on air conditioning.

It makes you want to rest.

Hot and sticky, like your mom. BURN!

Hot and sticky, like your mom. BURN!

Korea’s ESL mines afford you no luxury of rest in the summer. In the off chance your employer does allow the air conditioner to be turned on, it won’t be set to a comfortable level. And due to the idea that a free child is an annoying child, most ESL teachers are waking up early to do summer intensive classes. That’s something they never tell you about when you sign up to come here. “Oh, by the way: All August you’ll be working twelve plus hours a day with barely enough time for lunch in a sweltering classroom with kids who will be forced to do the same instead of playing in the sunshine with their friends.” There’s a lot of stuff about ESL in Korea they neglect to tell applicants but you can understand their motivation for withholding. Recent grads could stay home and get a McJob if they knew that’s what they were getting here.

Dear noobs in Korea, you’re doing fine…

whackoffsmall

Image source: Domina no Do!

Have you read this? Probably. While there are dozens of K-Bloggers out there, we’re the only ones reading what each other wrote so the odds are pretty good that you did. It’s an incestuous collective after all. Yes, it’s tongue in cheek. But it also exemplifies the attitudes of a lot of Lifers here and I feel those are the sort of attitudes that need poking with a sharp stick.

A little something about the permanent residents of Expatlandia, my newbish targets of a lampooning: If they’ve been living in a foreign nation for a very long time, it’s because they’ve pretty much trapped themselves there. Either by marrying someone who can’t bear the thought of leaving the homeland behind, by their lack of marketable job skills back home (Oh! My ears are burning!), or by the insurmountable cliff-face they created along the sides of their comfortable ruts. Odds are pretty good that they’ve successfully distanced themselves from your “Temporary guest-worker” reality via marriage and/or citizenship. Letting any long-timer tell you that your experiences and views are meaningless is akin to letting some rich asshole on the other side of the counter tell you how to be a proper barista because you didn’t get him his burnt-tasting sugar coffee fast enough*. If they act like your criticism of a country/ culture is an attack on them for some reason, well… It’s like people who continue to buy Apple products no matter how often they get screwed by it. There’s no talking to them.

Having said that, let me as a long-timer tell you “What is” in regards to South Korea. What is, is that you’re doing great.

The truth of the matter is that you can get the reality for guest workers here down pat within the first three months. Maybe it’ll take six if you’re fortunate enough to have a Korean partner who can shield and comfort you when reality intrudes upon your wee Cloud Cuckoo Land. You are an expert by month nine because there isn’t a lot to figure out aside from how you’re going to deal with your frustrations. And while it’s just good manners to not talk down to others, you should never be ashamed of pointing to your scars and spitting on the memory of your enemies.

These boats are metaphors

These boats are metaphors

You do understand Korean drinking culture quite clearly: Everyone is a drunken sot and if you want to spend life looking at the bottom of a bottle, this is a good place for it. The subtleties of Korean drinking culture extend only as far as not telling your boss that you don’t want to visit a whorehouse with him, how do belt out some Trot at the noraebang, and where you can find bottles of Bauchus F already chilled. The rest of it is just as loud, stupid, and prone to violence as the bar culture back home.

Do get a guitar. And some sweet tattoos. Do hang out in Haebongchong (or even Hongdae!) if that’s your thing. Do try to use all of that youthful vitality to gain popularity with the opposite sex. You’re probably in your twenties, for fek sake, when will there be a better time to sow your oats? Let me tell you right now: It sure as hell ain’t when you’re in your forties. The only think you’ll be doing then is waiting for a doctor to sew your heart bypass shut. And really, are you going to let some middle-aged guy in a necktie tell you that you’re being conformist? Seriously? Laugh at anyone who tells you that with the other musicians at the musician orgy.

These judgmental-looking robots are also metaphorical.

These judgmental-looking robots are also metaphorical.

Play the Foreigner Card as often and as freely as you’d like because if you don’t you’re going to be saddled with all of the cultural horseshit the locals can’t escape from. Such as working fourteen hours unpaid overtime without complaint just because everyone else is and you don’t want to stand out. Or having to listen to some drunken asshole ramble on and not letting go of your hand just because he’s older than you. Sure, learn the language as much as you need to given your circumstances. That only makes sense because it may help you protect yourself at some point. But never be afraid to wave that Imma Ferriner! card because it’s your high-speed ticket away from stupidity.

Seriously though: Don’t blame Confucianism for anything that doesn’t involve eating the shit of your employer just because he’s your employer. Sewol? Not Confucianism. That was Capitalism left to babysit itself. The taxi/ bus/ delivery driver nearly killing you at the crossing in their hurry to get to the next destination? Not Confucianism. That’s also capitalism being left to babysit itself. Always put the blame for bad things where it belongs: Unrestricted capitalism and the irredeemable monsters that promote it.

tl;dr – Keep on keeping on. And by that I mean: Keep on until you get out of here and to somewhere that doesn’t allow you to be so drunk all of the time. I’m worried about you.

* To put it another way: They have bad taste and you just want to get through your day without crying in public.

Mountains dark and dreary be

(Mirror post)

mountains dark and dreary be

More of Nova Scotia in the spring, because I know that you’ve grown tired of looking at an attractive woman in a miniskirt.

This was taken with the Pentax KX when it was in a less smashed up state. As you might be able to tell by a few recent shots, I started using the lenses I got with it on a digital Pentax. It’s a bit fiddly, but it works well enough.

Weirdly, and I don’t know what’s causing this thought, I’ve been starting to think “Sharpness, sharpness, sharpness.” when using a digital. It probably has something to do with all of the pixels looking the same.

All the sass in the world…

All the Sass

I don’t know who the singing lady is since my enjoyment of Korean pop music starts and ends with Gangnam Style, but her doing Trot makes me think that she’s Hong Jin-young (feel free to let me know in the comments that I’ve reopened for the next couple of weeks)… And I only knew that name because I just used Google.

Regardless, I think we can agree that her back-up dancer owns all of the sass in this troop.

Audz In Indz Unna Frydei

1) Here’s a new photo.

Just. One. More. Level. In. Candy. Crush. Saga...

I follow someone on Flickr who is pretty good at photographing people with their nose in their smartphones. I should eat their heart to gain their powers.

2) Here’s a photo of a Canadian forest floor that I took a year ago.

triffids

It’s been suggested that one focus on a single type of photography in order to master it. I think this may be true. Based on my shameful comic book-drawing past: Superhero comics require a different set of skills than gag strips do and it’s rare that an artist can easily jump from one to another. And while I tag images like the first image as “Street Photography” I don’t really feel as if what I do fully fits in with that genre. I see myself as a documentarian more than anything, which is why I tend to prefer shooting with lenses that are as close to what the human eye sees as possible and not the wide angle lenses that seem mandatory for the genre.

3) Here is a photo of two young ladies.

The Festival Light

I keep thinking that I should take more photos of attractive young women because I like attractive young women. However, the egotistical artist in me rebels against this because it knows that people will not be responding to my photography. They will be responding to the attractive young woman. This is how a sexual predator like Terry Richardson can become a wealthy and famous photographer.

4) Here’s a picture of some poor schmuck on the number four subway in Seoul I took about seven years ago.

ghost

As the kids say: “G.P.O.Y.

That Pose

That Pose

I tried to get them in the more candid moment I first saw them in, but being a big white guy in Korea means that it’s impossible to blend in. Using the kit lens also meant that my sneaky shot time was reduced. I’m also a fumble-thumbs and can’t do anything gracefully. They were smiling and saying hello by the time I got my lens up.

Not having the Korean language skills necessary to pose them more interestingly, I simply let them strike the default “Asian Pose”.

At the risk of sounding like a dirty old man (Not to be confused with an O.D.B.) Korean youth seem to have allowed themselves the freedom to be attractive in their own bodies. Few seem to be starving themselves to fit into a certain size. Young women are allowing themselves to be curvier. Young men are pumping iron and becoming beefier.

I’m not sure if plastic surgery rates are lessening, they’re better at hiding the scars, or if it’s always been more of a Seoul problem, but folks don’t seem as plastic as they did a decade ago.

And They Danced

and they danced

An unofficial member of the band helps entertain the crowd at Haeundae Beach in Busan. (Mirror)

The lighting was pretty tricky: Twilight on a cloudy day. I find everything taken that hour are dim and flat, and you can only do so much in Photoshop before an image gets stupid looking. This one was the most usable of the set.

I kept it for the unified dance moves more than any technical aspect. Besides, only assholes focus on the technical side of photography.

From what I understand, the fellow on the right is always on the beach, joining the buskers as an unofficial backup dancer when he comes across them. He does have that air of “harmless kook” about him.

Also, in the seven years since I’ve been to Busan, the Haeundae area seems to have become the local Expat Town. Which isn’t too surprising since they’ve made it possible to actually walk to the beach from the station now and there are always a lot of young women there..

Three Items for the Tenth

1. Listen to this song, watch the sixties dancers in the crowd, and adore it.

Man, what a classic. Adore it, damn you.

2. Look at this photo I took last night, read the words below it, and adore it.

in Japan

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to take a metering with it, I’ve been trying out my old manual lenses and filters on my new Pentax K-50. My Olympus Pen EE2 is the model here.

I haven’t been able to figure out if the softness in the images is an aspect of the lens, the mirror slap shaking things due to the really tiny depth of field I was using, or the way the sensor takes in the light of these old lenses. Perhaps a combination of them all?

This wasn’t the “sharp” part of the shot. But I think it was the best part.

3. Look at this Simpsons image that I stole from the web, read about what I discovered today, and adore it.

failure

For the last few months, most of my students have been out-smarting me.

Not particularly hard, I know. But I’m astounded that it took me this long to realize that they don’t remember a damned thing they’ve learned and they’re just really good at acting like they do. Telling me what I want to hear? I think they’ll do great in their future office jobs. See, I did the sneaky thing of slightly changing the content and usage of their target structure for the (accursed Power Point) game we were playing and kid after kid failed to do it. After exclaiming, “You did this last week!” I sat everyone down, set them to work on their books, and quickly talked with my new partner teacher about this.

Koreans are a rude bunch in general. Just watch how they treat each other on a weekend. And in ESL they’re always quick to sell you down the river in order to keep their asses covered, but she was pretty great about it. We got down to the nitty-gritty of the problem, and by the end of the day we had formulated a new lesson plan to try and fix the problem. No drama… Unless you count the realization in the faces of the kids that the easy ride was over. It was refreshing.

Best part? She agreed that I should drop all of the stuff the previous teacher insisted on that I was never happy with. See you in Hell, Power Point!

P.S.: I changed my commenting policy. You should read it.

But back on planet Earth they shatter the illusion

You know, I’ve been thinking about my life plans recently.

The plan when I returned to Korea was to save money for a year and head back to Japan. But between the rarity of jobs there that will sponsor a work visa (The work visa situation in Japan is so superior that few guest workers leave) and the fact that I’m aging out of the ESL job market is making me think that a Plans B and C should be reformulated and moved up to Plan A v.2 and Plan A v.3.

If I go for the “skill retraining” path, I’ll have to stay in Korea for at least two more years to be able to afford schooling back home. Ugh. The other is to drift through the rest of Asia until I retire to some South East Asian beach where I can live out my days like some British remittance man during the Raj. Ugh. A lot ugly imperialists and nasty misogynists in that crowd. At least I can understand the angry, bitter reactionaries here in Korea.

And now that I’ve insulted all of you, let’s focus on photography instead…

I'm glad he finally turned his head because my knees were giving out.

I’m glad he finally turned his head because my knees were giving out.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve tried to work with a DSLR. In some ways I like the high color saturation of their default settings. It’s really good for capturing the bright lights and neon of the city. The sensor noise does bother me a bit just because it clusters in certain color ranges. If it were more uniform like film grain, I’d be all for it.

I’ve not used a DSLR much in the last few years not only because I’ve been riding the death spiral of film. There’s something about a DSLR that turns people off. It’s hard to walk around town shooting with one without scaring everyone away. Maybe it’s just the douchebags with the popped collars and $10,000 worth of equipment taking creep shots at Haeundae Beach, but everyone goes into panic mode when they see one pointed their way. I have a very friendly-looking white Pentax K-50 and going through my shots I took last weekend, a large number of my subjects are showing fear reactions. I have an otherwise lovely shot of two stylish young ladies strutting down the street like the mean business, but the discomfort I caught on the face of one makes the picture unusable.

Unless you’re one of those assholes who think discomfort in the faces of their subjects is more “real”. Since you’re an asshole, I’ll ignore your opinion.

I have found that I get less negative reactions to using a film camera. People are far more at ease around them. Maybe it makes people think, “Okay, only artists would be stupid enough to keep using film. And since this is for art…” Maybe it reminds them of their grandfathers. Maybe they’re simply confused by the lack of lights and beeps and don’t have time to feel threatened? One thing I have found is that using a TLR camera like my old Mamiya C220, or the lovely Yashica Mat-124 my good pal Greg gifted to me, is that getting people to look though the viewfinder is like performing a magic trick for them.

The magic of glass.