November 20, 2007

Half way in Korea

안녕하세요 ( = annyong haseyo = hello),

November in Korea, the weather's taking a distinct cold turn - I hope
you enjoy the NZ summer for me if you're there! Today marks the
half-way point of my time in South Korea, with 223 days down and 223
to go, so seems like time for an email update.

First off a couple of music links - I've been uploading some of my
back catalogue to the web so help yourself to free mp3s at, and you can also get The
Winter's entire instrumental 'Parataxes' album from 2003 at - please spread
the word and enjoy.

Progress with new works is coming along gradually - I'm spending a lot
of my spare time practising instruments and sorting through the
stockpile of field recordings - will get some videos up on youtube
soon. Main event so far was Cynthia and I winning 100,000 won in a
Korean song competition at the Chinatown festival, with our
banjo+clarinet+melodica arrangement of 'Arirang'.

Latest chapter in the Asian odyssey was a side-trip to Japan the other
week, had an amazing time visiting Hiroshima (gut-wrenching A-bomb
memorial in a friendly modern city with Melbourne-like trams and great
okonomyaki or Japanese omelette), Kyoto (sights of old Japan) and
Osaka (sights of new Japan). The one thing I was disappointed by was
that we spent a Saturday night in Osaka and couldn't find any live
music. Is going to gigs just too much of a western concept? As far
as I can tell music in East Asia is all about ringtones and portable
mp3 players, and 'live music' means going to a karaoke room with some
drunken friends. We did see a Bunraku performance at the national
puppet theatre though, which made me think that was the inspiration
for the Vulcans in Star Trek.

Asian pop music is terrible (think 1980s), so I'm most interested in
traditional Asian styles here. The Koreans do have some half-decent
hiphop eg Drunken Tiger, but the rock music is pretty average from
what I've seen. I would have guessed Koreans would be into heavy
metal due to their bolshy natures, but instead they like soft ballads
'to calm us down'.
The highest energy music here is the traditional samulnori drumming,
which is accompanied by an obnoxiously loud (in a good way)
double-reed taepyeongso, and head movements that create a ribbon dance
via a streamer attached to their hat.

Living in Korea I was struck by the Japanese contrasts such as clean
streets, orderly but not identical buildings, calm friendly people
with diverse dress sense, drinkable tap water, comfortable trains,
less air pollution etc. It was 'interesting' arriving back in Busan
to see barbed wire and guards with machine guns at the airport, hazy
sky and a bumpy bus ride back. Going to a supermarket I was struck by
the noise of 'hard sell' for products, each salesperson shouting to be
heard over the others.

This weekend was good though, we went to Gyeongju, the capital a
thousand years ago. There were more traditional-style buildings per
square kilometre than anywhere else I've seen in Korea (even the
petrol stations had traditional roofs), plus clean air and beautiful
autumn colours. It'll be a good weekend getaway town as there's
plenty more to see and it's only an hour from Busan.

Now that I'm half way through Korea and settled in, the focus can
shift from surviving here to planning for what's next. There are lots
of options, time to start focussing them down into actual plans, eg

Best wishes, keep in touch, it really is nice to hear from friends &
family out here...



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