Wednesday, December 21, 2011

색다른 캐롤송

"나는 꼼수다" (I'm a Petty Creep), a left-leaning highly popular South Korean podcast, released four Christmas carol songs recently just in time for Christmas. These songs are specially 'dedicated' to "가카" (original word: 각하, 閣下, His Highness), a sarcastic title they gave president Lee Myung-bak.

You can read more about the podcast in this Voice Of America's article: Hit South Korean Podcast Sparks Controversy

"가카 할아버지" Grandpa "His Highness" celebrating 2007 Christmas with children after winning the presidential election that year.

Below are 2 of the 4 songs. Translation of the lyrics is provided to give a gist of the songs' messages. If the messages are not clear, it is alright to take them as Christmas carol songs (:

1. 쫄면 안 돼

Background of this song: The Korea Communications Standards Commission plans to set up a new media review office to filter harmful or illegal content on social network services (SNS), such as Twitter, Facebook and Me2day, or apps registered at Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market. Harmful or illegal content refers to pornography, gambling, drug abuse, false information spreading, libel, and comments that violate the National Security Law or instigating crime. (Source: The Korea Times)

(In Singapore context: National Cyber Security Centre will be set up to detect and prevent cyber security threats, and serve as a focal point to coordinate and implement measures between the public and private sectors. Whatever it means.)

쫄면 안 돼

쫄면 안 돼, 쫄면 안 돼!
가카 할아버지는 쪼는 애들에게
빅~엿을 안겨주신대
[Don't chicken out, don't chicken out! They said grandpa "His Highness" gives big malt candy to children who chicken out.]

가카 할아버지는 알고 계신대,
누가 쪼는 앤지 안 쫀 앤지,
오늘 밤에 잡아 가신대
[They said grandpa "His Highness" knows who chicken out and who don't. He will come and catch you tonight.]

댓글 달 때 블로그 할 때,
트윗 할 때 페북할 때도,
가카 할아버지는
모든 것을 알고 계신대
[When you post a comment, when you blog, when you tweet, when you facebook, they said grandpa "His Highness" knows everything.]

2. 기쁘다 가카오셨네

기쁘다 가카오셨네

기쁘다 가카 오셨네
만백성 망했다~
공항도 다리도 터널도 도로도~
재벌에 팔아라~
외국에 팔아라~
다 팔아~ 팔아 버려라~
[We were happy when "His Highness" came and ruined the nation. Airports, bridges, tunnels and roads were all sold to 'Chaebols' and foreigners.]

기쁘다 가카 오셨네
만백성 망했다~
방송도 신문도 블로그 트윗도
다 장악하여라~
다 장악하여라~
다 입을 틀어 막아라~
[We were happy when "His Highness" came and ruined the nation. All TV stations, newspapers, blogs and twitters came under control and all lips were sealed.]

기쁘다 가카 오셨네
만백성 망했다~
전국의 백성들 총선과 대선 때
다 투표하여라~
다 투표하여라~
우리 표~로 바꿔 버리자~
우리 표~로 바꿔 버리자~
[We were happy when "His Highness" came and ruined the nation. Everyone must all vote. Use our votes to effect change during the general election and the presidential election.]

(In Singapore context: Power stations were sold to foreigners and public transports privatized. As for media control, 'lips' were more or less sealed from day one.)

I like a remark made by G. K. Chesterton:

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." 

Anyway, politics is a bit too heavy for Christmas, haha. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

한국의 맥박

In the history of humanity, the second oldest musical instrument after voice is probably percussion. From the day he knew how to beat, the pursuit of the primeval aesthetics of sound became his life's mission. Choi Sori's (born Choi Gyeong-seop) musical life began when he started hitting the cover of his lunchbox during elementary school. He was about to complete his middle school when he ran away from his hometown in Jeolla-do with the money his parents got from selling their cow. His devotion to drumming never stopped as he eked out a living working as an odd job labourer and delivering newspaper and jajang-myeon. He only returned home to complete his high school when he could not understand the English which appeared in the music books.

Holding drumsticks at the age of twelve, Choi Sori isolated himself twice from the world by moving into the mountain to concentrate on his study of musical instrument. During one of his self-imposed isolation, he built a hut in Mt. Jiri and stayed there for three years. The wholehearted pursuit of one's passion always comes at a price. Choi suffered from noise-induced hearing loss due to long term exposure to high-decibel sound. However, he was not one bit perturbed by the possibility of turning deaf. He said, "If I am to lose my hearing completely, I will be able to hear the sound of my heart and imagination better."

Choi Sori is the creative director of "Arirang Party", a 100-min non-verbal performance which harmonises the art of eastern and western percussion, Korean traditional dance, B-boy and Taekwondo into the heartbeat of Korea. It took him ten years to conceptualise and plan the performance which made its debut in 2007. It has since become a cultural brand of Korea with a permanent performing theatre in Jeju Island.

Arousing the energy of heaven and earth through fire, water and drumbeats
Scent, Light, Flower [Korean Traditional Dance]
The Maze [Handy Fan Performance]
Spirit [Flame Performance]
Shadow [Mask Performance]
Delight [Korean Traditional Dance & Taekwondo Performance]
The Arirang Party [Water Drumming Performance]

Information, video and performance pictures are taken from SR Group Entertainment's homepage (

P.S. Choi Sori and Arirang Party, please visit Singapore in your next World Tour.

Friday, December 09, 2011

아름다운 님

When you look up a Korean dictionary, the word "아리다" comes immediately before "아리땁다". For this word pair, their sequence of appearance in the dictionary is not a coincidence. "아리다" describes pain whilst "아리땁다" portrays beauty. In meaning, they are diametrically opposite but yet they are closely related. You can say this is the aesthetics of the Korean people - beauty emerges from pain and heartache and vice versa. To the Korean, 아린 것 (painful thing) and 아리따운 건 (beautiful thing) are interchangeable. Painful memories, if allow to settle down, will slowly "mature" and eventually elevate to something beautiful. Compare this with the fermentation of soybean paste (된장) in the "Jangdok" (장독, crock). If fermentation is allowed to take place without disturbance, the foul smell of the fermented beans will soon be compensated by the pleasant taste of the paste. It is as if "beauty" has embraced "pain" with a tight hug.

Have you ever asked, "What is the meaning of Arirang?" There are many explanations but I thought this explanation is more appropriate - The "아리" in "아리랑" comes from the word "아리다" and from which "아리땁다" was derived. "랑" means "님" (honorific used when addressing a person). "Arirang" can be defined as "my beautiful dear" (아리따운 님) or as the "dear who gave me heartache" (아린 님).  As a song, "Arirang" is both sad and beautiful and that's perhaps why it is so endearing.

아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요... (My beautiful dear, my beautiful dear, my beauty)
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다. (My beautiful dear heads towards the Pass)
나를 버리고 가시는 님은 (My dear who left without me)
십리도 못가서 발병난다. (is not able to walk for 5km without hurting his foot)

청청하늘엔 별도 많고 (Up in the blue blue sky, there are many stars)
우리네 가슴엔 꿈도 많다 (In our heart, we also have many dreams)

저기 저 산이 백두산이라지 (Look there, isn't that Mt. Baekdu)
동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다 (Flowers bloom even during winter solstice)

"Arirang" is a song supposedly sang by a lady whose lover left her for the battlefront 600 years ago. "Heads towards the Pass" means her lover was leaving the city for a distant place. She couldn't bear to part with him and she believed he couldn't too. That was probably why she thought his foot would start to ache even before he  could walk 5km. The talk about many stars and dreams shows that they had many plans for their future. But  somehow, she knew the chance of seeing him again was slim. When she sang about Mt. Baekdu, a sacred mountain to the Koreans, she was actually hoping for a miracle, hoping that flowers would indeed bloom in Mt. Baekdu even in the peak of winter, hoping her lover would return safely.

Two decades ago, a Hong Kong wrist watch commercial which cast Chow Yun-fat and Wu Chien-lien caught the imagination of a whole generation of people. A real classic even by today standard. If you have yet to appreciate the relationship between "아리다" and "아리땁다", perhaps you soon will.

The setting of the commercial: February 1939, about one and a half year into the second Sino-Japanese war. The battle of interest and the backdrop of the heartbreaking love story, was the lesser-known "Lanzhou Air Battle" (兰州空战). 2nd Lieutenant Liu Fu-hong (刘福洪), a pilot and a graduate of the Huangpu Military Academy had just married his wife, Chen Ying-fan (陈影凡), 10 years his junior.

Dashing Chow Yun-fat (37) played 2nd Lieutenant Liu Fu-hong with Wu Chien-lien (24), known for her melancholic eyes, as his newly-wed wife Chen Ying-fan in the 1992 Sovil et Titus commercial.

The Japanese forward airbase at "Yun-cheng" (运城) in Shanxi Province was fast becoming a threat to Lanzhou (Gansu Province), a major city in the northwest of China, and had to be neutralised. Newly wed Liu was ordered to lead a flight of four Vultee V-11 planes on a bombing mission to "Yun-cheng". On the fateful day, Feb 5 1939, Liu and his team flew for 3 hours before offloading forty 30-pound bombs over their targets. Tens of Japanese planes were destroyed in the raid. The mission was a success but unfortunately, Liu never saw home again. His plane crushed on the return trip due to engine failure. He flew his last flight at the age of 30. On hearing the news of his death, Chen Ying-fan attempted suicide but was saved. She finally committed suicide on Feb 16 by putting a bullet through herself. She was only 20 then.

The "Lanzhou Air Battle" of 1939 saw the combined force of the Republic of China Air Force and the USSR Air Volunteer Force thwarting the aggression of the Japanese Air Force. The attention to details was amazing for a commercial. You can see a Russian officer fifth from left. Everyone was in thick winter outfits because it was supposed to be winter then.

"너를 사랑해서 결혼하는게 아니라, 너만 사랑해서 결혼하는거다."(I marry you not because I love you, I marry you because I only love you.) - quote from Korean drama "Secret Garden".

Background music - "La Califfa" by Italian composer Ennio Morricone

Can you differentiate between "아린 사랑" (heartbreaking love) and "아리따운 사랑" (beautiful love) after watching the CF? You can't, can you? They are the same.