Archive for the ‘South Korea’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

Coffee and Milk Featured in Teach Away, Inc. Telegram

February 4, 2011
Students' Reaction Shot

My Grade 6 Advanced English class participating in the Coffee and Milk shoot.

I’m proud and honoured to report that Coffee and Milk has been featured in Teach Away, Inc.’s January 2011 telegram. Teach Away is the company that brought me over to teach English in Korea.

Find the article here.

View the short film here or pictures from the shoot on Flickr.

I also have other posts about the film here.

Coffee and Milk Screening in Korea

November 17, 2010
Second Shot of the Day

Seung Jae, Steventeacher, and Murat on set for the filming of Coffee and Milk.

Practically one year to the day since it was shot, my first international short film Coffee and Milk, about a teacher and a student who get into a fight over spilled milk and coffee, will be screened at the 12th Independent Film Festival MADE IN BUSAN!

For those of you who don’t know Korean, here’s the direct link:

http://www.ifmib.org/bbs/view.php?id=gong1&no=193&category=

From my meager knowledge of Korean, the info under that link gives the general information about the movie, which can also be found here, in English.

If you’re not in Korea, you can always watch the movie on my Vimeo page or check it out being featured on the Art of Backpacking website.

Korean Traditional, Pop, and Jazz Music

September 27, 2010

Ok, so here is my second post on Korean music. Here I’ll cover some traditional, pop, and jazz music. Admittedly, this post is incomplete since Korea, especially Seoul, is teeming with a vibrant music culture.

Traditional

2-CD collection of Kim Duk Su's traditional music.

The Grand Poobah of Korean traditional music is Kim Duk Soo, the man who leads his own samul nori ensemble. The core ensemble consists of four instrument, the janggu (the hour-glass-shaped drum), buk (a regular big tub of a drum), jing (a large, dull sounding gong) and the Kwaenggwari (a small cymbal used to solo and lead the group), but in many cases the ensemble is expanded. Some find this music annoying, especially because of the kwaenggwari, but to see it live is simply amazing. These muthfuckas can wail! Not only that, take a look at performance in which they do the twirly-head-thingy, gives metal-loving headbangers a run for their money, eh? Luckily I had the chance to study the janggu under the tutelage of my school’s music teacher, but without the head spinning. If you’re interested, Mr. Kim runs a daily show in Seoul at the Gwangwhamun Arts Hall. I missed it, but I have a couple of his discs, “Pan” and his 2-disc “Samulnori”. I like the second one best but “Pan” would probably give a better overall glimpse at traditional Korean music.

There is another traditional performing arts show that’s not all percussion. It’s also a regular show at the Korea House in Seoul. It is here you can hear the traditional flute played, see the fan-dance, and also see the all-female drum quintet that, I think, inspired Drumcat.

Pop

KPop all-stars, 2NE1 from South Korea.

If there is one country that has PERFECTED pop music, it’s Korea. It’s catchy, it cute, it’s fake, it’s in Korean AND English! I’ll admit that I’m sadly out of touch with the current Kpop trends, but I did spend some time studying Kpop since it would often get my students to pay attention… and make ladies laugh at the bar. Recently, Super Junior, 2NE1, Brown Eyed Girls, 2PM and SNSD were tearing up the charts with their catchy singles (I’d post links but they’d just get deleted because of copyright infringement). A friend sent me this link to a couple of wayguks (foreigners) giving heir top 2009 Kpop hit singles. I think it’s a pretty good summation.

Jazz

Autographed jazz CD by Se Yun's trio. Translation: "Steve! Thank you. Se Yun. 12.12"

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much jazz as I would’ve liked while in SoKo. But, from what I can tell, Seoul is the city to catch some live jazz. While in one jazz bar the band, Se Yun’s Trio, was phenomenal live so I picked up the disc (see above). The disc is equally impressive. Busan has one bar that’s dedicated to jazz, but the “jam” on Mondays always seemed empty. I was part of one band that played a lot of jazz in Busan, you can see some vidz HERE. Lastly, there are several jazz festivals that take place. The two I had heard about were the Seoul Jazz Festival and the Jarasum International Jazz Festival.

And that’ll just about do it for my knowledge on South Korean music. Looking back at my posts I’ve realized my knowledge is paltry compared to what’s really out there. To those in SoKo, there’s lots of stuff going on and I’d love to hear about it. To those outside of SoKo, don’t write Asia off for it’s music!

Korean Rock Music

September 15, 2010

My Asian Rock and Metal post excludes one country that had a great affect on me personally and musically, Korea. Korea presented me with a few opportunities to both play and listen to music that I never would have had the chance to experience before. With this post, I’ll give you a glimpse of what’s going on overseas in SoKo.

I’ve broken this post into two parts. The first part is about the some of the rock music I found and the live scene in the ex-pat bars. The second part will deal with traditional, pop, and jazz music in South Korea.

Stepping out of a cab in Seoul, South Korea, my friends and I saw this group, Drumcat, just about to take the stage to perform. Four gorgeous Korean women dressed in black who play drums, everything about that is "yes".

Artist: Drumcat!

Album: Live show, DVD

MySpace: None

My first experience with this all-female percussion group was in Seoul. I stepped out of a cab into a very large crowd. I look to my right and see this very attractive Korean woman dressed in black velvet holding a pair of drum sticks. Naturally, I ask for her name, number, blah blah and snap a few pictures. Turns out, there’s a whole bunch of them and they make up Drumcat. The videos posted below were taken by me the first time I saw them. Apparently they’ve toured Europe before and now they run a daily show in Seoul. I thought the street performance was phenomenal, but the live show in Seoul was too drawn out. They have a DVD available at their daily show. Highly recommended.

Artist: YB

Album: Millicromb Bomb

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/ybrocks

Website: http://ybrocks.com/main.html

Also known as Yoonband, this Korean rock band rocked my balls solid and then left them used and abused. I especially like track number 2, “88”. From what I know, “88” is pronounced pal-ship-pal, the last two words “ship-pal” being tantamount to saying “fuck you” in English. This group embraces traditional instruments as much as they utilize their guitar-drums-bass rock music. Full of attitude, they’ve even been banned from KBS, a Korean broadcaster. The songs pulse with energy and the CD stands as a great background for a party… or perhaps a film soundtrack. Well worth the price of this CD.

Artist: Galaxy Express

Album: Ramble Around

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/galaxyrocknroll

Website: http://galaxyexpress.wo.to/

I asked the clerk at the Gwangju music store if he could recommend any bands, and he pointed out Galaxy Express. Upon further research, turns out this is one of the most famous rock bands in SoKo. In any event, upon listening to Ramble Around, you can tell that these Korean rockers listened to a LOT of Western rock. With throw backs to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, the classic rock and metal of the ’80s, and the grunge movement of the ’90, this band pays tribute to their heroes in a great and listenable way. Now, there is a chance that I’m not giving enough credit to this band for simply coming up with some great tunes, but I can’t help but hear the connections they make in the music. Example: track: hear the Jimi Hendrix chorus before the Alice in Chains verse? How about the Motorhead breakdown? In any event, a great party disc. It was really good and I’m still listening to that one regularly.

Artist: Sinawe

Album: Sinawe 5

MySpace: None

Website: http://www.metal-archives.com/band.php?id=37756

Apparently this is the first band to have ever played metal in South Korea. I couldn’t find out much more about them, but the guitarist, Sin Dae-Cheol, is the son of the “Godfather” of South Korean rock, Sin Jung-Hyeon. Formed in 1983, this band shut down operations in 1991 only to start up again in 1995 with new members. The disc I picked up was simply titled Sinawe 5, and I believe it belongs to the second incarnation starting in 1995. Really like the vocal work on track 3, “내가 원하는 거“. Decent disc, but not metal in the Norwegian or North American sense of the word. I’d love to see this band live simply because any one disc won’t capture their history.

Artist: Me 6

Album: Beautiful Doll

MySpace: None

Website: none

A friend of mine suggested this band to me after reading my post on Asian rock and metal. Wow! The first track itself (clocking in at 14 ½ minutes) is a smorgasbord of sound. Within the first minute you get the sense that you should roll a “j”, sit back, and relax. And then all of a sudden, it feels like you’re thrown into a late 70’s cops n’ robbers flick, or a Tarantino movie! Sheeit! The cops are coming meng! I think the opening track would be a great opening for a movie, complete with the initial drug deal, the complications, the chase, and the resolution. The rest of the album is groovy, great background music for either yourself or with company.

Live music

For the year that I lived in Busan, most of the bands I saw were foreigner bands. I played in one jazz/blues band with two Koreans, but we played cover tunes catering to the ex-pat community. You can watch me groove away the last time I played drums in Korea (including 2 drum solos!)

It is quite possible that the Korean bands played elsewhere, but I couldn’t find them. Seoul would be the most likely place. That being said, in the group of teacher recruits that I came over with alone there were two solid acts: a couple from Texas calling themselves Poko Lambro and this guy named John Rennie.

Artist: Poko Lambro

Album: Year of the Renegade Children

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/pokolambro

Website: http://www.pokolambro.com/Poko_Lambro/HOME.html

The Texans are a singer/songwriter duo who absolutely wail on the acoustic guitar, check out their stuff, and make sure you see their guitar dual. They perform an amazing guitar duo with no vocals. Though they are both teachers, their band often plays the ex-pat bars in the Kyungsung, PNU, and Seongjeong areas.

Artist: The Defector Frequency

Album: None

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/thedefectorfrequency

Website: None

Then there’s JR who’s manage to create what seems to be a (Prodigy-inspired?) Euro-electronica rock band. Their tracks on mySpace don’t reveal how much work they’ve put into their songs. Great key work, a very tight rhythm section, and some catchy melodies. Don’t know how they pull off their shows live (as I’ve never seen this incarnation live), but I sure hope they’re as good as they are in the digital domain.

There are other acts in Busan to be sure, but, like the two I just mentioned, they’re mostly foreigners. But the real music scene is in Seoul. Around Hanguk University is a number of live venues ranging from rock to jazz (and then add on top your clubs and bars). Seoul has also been attracting a lot more international acts lately, which is good to see. The free mag, Busan Haps, would be the best place to see what’s happening in the ex-pat community. Sadly, my Korean is insufficient to provide any information on authentic original Korean music, but I’d be interested in finding out more.

In the next post, I’ll cover some traditional, pop, and jazz music in South Korea.

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

Korea: A Reminiscence

August 15, 2010

안녕하세요!

I’ve been back in Winnipeg for just over a month now and many people have asked me “How was Korea?” So I’ve decided to put down some of my thoughts about the country and my time there.

My job in Korea was to teach English to Grade 3s to 6s. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. Using resources from EPIK and Dave’s ESL, as well as some friends who begun teaching there before me, I quickly learned about lesson plans, lesson flow, and classroom management. The first few weeks were intimidating but, once I got into the hang of things, it became a whole lot easier. I will never forget the first time driving up to the school and three kids stopped, mouths gaping, pointing at me as I drove by. They were excited, which helped ease my own nerves.

In regard to Korean life, Koreans always seems to be in a hurry to do something. I don’t get it. I’m sure North Americans are guilty of the same thing, but, as an outsider, I noticed that everything done by Koreans needed to be done right away. If you were a foreigner, you were allowed some lenience. I really felt bad for my co-teacher because every time she received a phone call, she stopped everything to attend to the call, and then (sometimes) sprinted out of the classroom to take care of whatever business needed to be taken care of.

If there’s one thing you’ll soon notice when you go to Korea it’s that everything is Korean. LG and Samsung, Daewoo, KIA and Hyundai, and Angel-in-Us. It’s kinda creepy. Jim Rogers, a renowned New York investor, wrote in his book Adventure Capitalist, that Korea came across as “artificial”. He’s got a point. Korean companies dominate the landscape; not many foreign companies (especially not Japanese, i.e. Sony and Panasonic!) can be found here!

And how about those cab drivers? You really learn to appreciate life after you’ve made it home alive in a cab. If there was one reason to learn the Korean language, it was so you could tell the cab driver where to you lived, and to go slower!

The Korean language. I loved learning Hangul, if only because I could make an attempt to talk to every cute girl that walked by. Aside from that, Hangul looks like such a happy language. Look at a paragraph of Hangul and tell me that you do not see little faces, some happy, some unamused, some winking, some confused!

Cyclops:

Unamused:

Drunk winking:

Wearing cool glasses and smiling:

Surprised pirate:

Sly and cool:

Those are just some of the things I saw when I first looked the Korean writing system. Here’s a sample:

언제나 어디서나 날 따라다니는 이 스포트 라이트
어딜가나 쫓아오지 식당 길거리 까페 나이트
도대체 얼마나 나이 들어야 이놈의 인기는 식으러 들지 원
섹시한 내 눈은 고소영
아름다운 내 다린 좀 하지원
어쩌면 좋아 모두 나를 좋아하는 것 같애 oh no

-from “So Hot” by Wondergirls

Don’t you see the faces? Tell me you see the faces! (Okay, it’s a stretch, but the first time I saw it, I swear I saw faces!)

Some of my friends thought Korea was a third-world country. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Korea is probably more developed than most parts of North America! If you want your luxury shopping (Gucci, Prada, etc.) you’ve got it. Movies? All the English movies are shown in addition to some Korean movies subtitled in English. Music? Great rock and jazz music to be found in Seoul, while Busan seems to be overrun with foreigners and their music groups. Food? Take your pick, all western fast food joints and many European foods (such as pizza or kebabs) are available. Coffee? Yes, Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Angel-in-Us, and my personal favourite (because they gave me cake every time), Cherami (exit 6, Goejeong Station, Saha-gu, Busan). And don’t forget the largest sea-food market in Asia, Jagalchi in Busan. You’ve never tasted fresher raw fish. You walk down any number of isles offering a variety of fish and sea creatures, pick which ones you want, take a seat, slug some soju, then eat. My most expensive bill there was $50, and that was apparently for some “expensive” fish. I can only imagine what the same bill would be in Canada.

And how about that Kpop? Well, words will fail any attempt to describe Korean pop music. Let’s just say, they’ve got America beat at cranking out popstars. America only uses one pop star and makes him/her a star. Korea? They take 18 young men or women, put them on a stage, and make them sing and dance. Be sure to check out Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry”, Wonder Girls’ “So Hot” (see the lyrics above), and my favourite, “Fire” by 2NE1.

I enjoyed my time in Korea. I’d like to return to Korea one day, possibly to teach, or maybe just to visit. Or maybe to shoot another movie? (See Coffee and Milk below.) The world is a large place and I would really like to see more of it.

PS – In regard to North-South relations, the only “bomb” I experienced was mixing soju with beer, which my kids called “pok tan ju”, translated to mean “the bomb”.

Coffee and Milk featured on travel website

August 3, 2010

My short film, Coffee and Milk, has been featured on the travel website Art of Backpacking. You can view it here:

http://www.artofbackpacking.com/film-feature-coffee-and-milk-teaching-in-south-korea/

Article on Teaching English in South Korea

August 3, 2010

I’ve written an article on teaching English in South Korea. My friend Mike has posted it to his travel website. You can find it here:

http://www.artofbackpacking.com/teaching-english-in-south-korea/

I have been putting together a couple of posts about Korea that I will post later.

48 cities. 16 countries.

July 20, 2010

London (England)

Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice (Italy)

Vienna (Austria)

Prague (Czech Rep)

Berlin (Germany)

Amsterdam, Utretch, Rotterdam (Holland)

Brussells (Belgium)

Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Vancouver (Canada)

Cheong Un, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Andong, Okpo, Daejeon, Jeonju, Kyongju, Boreyong, Seoul (South Korea)

Kuala Lampur, Cameron Highlands, Georgetown, Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)

Singapore (Singapore)

Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchanabury (Thailand)

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaam Samnoor (Cambodia)

Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi (Vietnam)

Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang (Laos)

Taipei (Taiwan)

48 cities. 16 countries.

What a journey! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Although I was able to unpack my luggage for an extended period in Korea, it always hung over my head that, especially by month 7, I was going to be leaving. And, wow, who knew how much crap you can accumulate over a year?! Oh my! In any event, I’ve lived out of a couple cases of luggage for the last 1.5 years. I backpacked through Europe for a month before heading back to Canada to apply for my South Korean work visa, then jetted off to SoKo to teach English for a year. Deciding to stay in Asia for summer vacation, I travelled through Malaysia and Singapore before returning to SoKo, only to be quarantined at my apartment during the swine flu epidemic. Once my contract finished, I headed to Bangkok and, deciding that I no longer wanted to work there, I flew down to Phuket to do some Muay Thai training. After three weeks of intense training, I rested my shins (and possibly a broken thumb) as I bussed to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Volunteering in Cambodia for a month left me with a choice to go to Vietnam, which I took, and spent 2.5 weeks there before taking the cheap, but long, bus ride to Vientiane in Laos. Three cities in Laos and then it was back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading back to Bangkok to arrange my flight back to Canada. Not wanting to go back, I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week and absolutely loved it, I even started looking for jobs! But, it was time to return to Canada. Vancouver-bound, I stayed for a week with some friends and then booked my ticket back to my home town, Winnipeg.

Fascinating, that’s all I can say. I did that? I seriously travelled all those places?

Yep, says my bank account.

Yep, say the numerous self-portraits.

Yep, say the friends who politely smile when I ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Now I sit in Winnipeg putting some things together and meeting my family and friends. But I’ll leave that to another post at a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and remember the good times.


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