Month: May 2017

Korea This Week (May 21-27)

A distillation of select news from the peninsula


Tourism promotion has always been tricky business in Korea. In this writer’s humble opinion, one of the main stumbling blocks has been a problem of perspective, specifically, a tendency of Korean tourism promoters to consistently overrate the appeal of traditional Korean culture to international tourists.

People travel for a variety of reasons – experience, entertainment, relaxation, enrichment – but rather than consider what kinds of things tourists would like to see, do, or experience, tourism officials more often seem to promote Korea the way they would like people to experience it. As a result, their offerings and suggested itineraries often end up sounding less like an exciting holiday package and more like a high school class trip.

With the exception of Chinese and Japanese tourists ( who can pop over for weekend if they want), people from most anywhere else have to travel a long distance to get here, and the reason for doing so has to be something a bit more compelling than making kimchi, watching a mask dance, taking a pottery class, or visiting a museum dedicated to the history of the song Arirang (I’m not making that up). In short, Korea is a cool place to

Arirang score

All together now!

visit, but you wouldn’t always know that from reading the official tourism literature.

In other news, last Sunday, the band BTS won Billboard’s Best Social Artist prize, and in doing so became the first K-Pop group to win a Billboard award. I’m not a K-Pop fan (mainly because I’m a 46-year old male), but you have to give credit where it is due: winning at an American awards ceremony despite having no songs in English and only one band member who is fluent in the language is a remarkable achievement.

Some were quick to point out that we shouldn’t read too much into it however, because it was a fan-voted prize. Anyone who recalls 2011, when the K-pop singer Rain won Time Magazine‘s poll for “The World’s Most Influential Person” (beating out Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and a comically incredulous Stephen Colbert), knows very well that you never – ever – challenge a Korean entertainer to an online poll. You will lose. Badly.

BTS also sold out a 5-show arena tour in the US earlier this year, which has fired dreams of bigger success in the North American music market, something that has so far eluded Hallyu stars (who, to be fair, have mainly focused their energies elsewhere). If the current South Korean / Chinese spat over the THAAD missile system deployment drags on, cracking into the US and other markets could become a bigger priority for K-Pop acts. Stay tuned…

Back From The Dormant

After a couple of years languishing in the Great Blog Graveyard, Sweet Pickles and Corn is up and running once more. Before we get started, I’d like to take a few moments to address our faithful and long-suffering readers’ most burning questions.

What happened to the old Sweet Pickles and Corn?

The short answer is ‘inertia’. As Isaac Newton pointed out, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body on a sofa tends to stay on the sofa. Despite all the initial enthusiasm and good intentions, this seems to be the fate of most blogs: they sputter, run out of gas, and finally lie abandoned by the big electronic roadside in the sky.

The more charitable explanation is that we were busy. Three of us wrote books last year,

writeratdesk

Anonymous SP&C blogger at work.

another was waist-deep in an MFA program, three SP&C alumni moved overseas, and another moved across the peninsula. The truth lies somewhere between these two explanations.

Why are we starting it again?

We find ourselves now in a much-diminished K-blogosphere, in which many long-standing and much-beloved blogs have passed on. Does Korea need a resurrected Sweet Pickles and Corn? Readers can decide that, but we aim to try to fill the gap.

What is this new Sweet Pickles and Corn?

Those of you who were readers of the old SP&C may remember it as a bit of a grab bag by a bunch of people living in Korea, and writing mostly about Korea, if sometimes by default. The new Sweet Pickles and Corn is going for a similar tone but a more narrowed focus: it is a “Korea blog” by design, and as such, will take Korea as its focus. Culture, events, news, commentary, humor, reviews and other Korea-related brain droppings are all fair game.

What’s up with that name?

The name Sweet Pickles and Corn was initially chosen as a nod to the pizza side dish and topping that often appear in Korea, and was meant to suggest the quirks and minor absurdities of life here that our blog would take as its focus. I suppose the name will still function that way, but there’s another sense in which I’ve come to like the pickles and corn symbol: as a common example of a cultural borrowing with a Korean twist.

Not everyone is a fan of corn on pizza (I don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other), but whether you like it or not, it’s a small but common example of the many opportunities to view the familiar through a different lens. I often find that the interesting things about Korea are not always the uniquely Korean creations, but the unique way that Korea re-purposes and re-invents cultural imports and ultimately makes them their own. Sometimes it’s a hit, and sometimes it’s a miss, but it’s seldom boring, and this, in a nutshell, is our lofty aim here: to hit, to miss, and to not be boring. Or something like that.

What do I do now?

Sit back, pull up a small tub of your favorite fermented vegetable, and enjoy!

bob_farrell_pickle