Working also on a book review for Kyoto Journal (of a book on North Korea) and on reviews of several other books I’ve read for this here blog. Next review will be on Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald, which was wonderful but which is proving thorny in terms of writing a fair, critical, and incisive review. Reading? Um… yeah, I’m working on it. And fiction-writing? Oh, I really wish… but I’ll try tonight.
(Incidentally, as with a number of places in Asia, the movie cinema industry is not quite a monopoly, butit’s heavily dominated by a few big companies, meaning your selection is often quite limited. Given a choice between the new Travolta film and the new Mel Gibson, we decided to give moviegoing a pass.)
So we’re sitting here, both happily online and sipping our coffees, and there’s a Korean couple not far away. They’re having a conversation so loud I can almost follow it, even with the music and the distance. That’s because they’re practically shouting at one another, though with smiles on their faces.
When I go to coffeeshops in other countries, I’m always struck by how most of them — not all, but most — are really quiet, comfortable places. Going there with company means a conversation can be held without shouting.
This is not how it is in Korea, or in any coffeeshop anywhere that Koreans happen to be. People reading my blog regularly might have noticed my recent rant about the topic, but now I’m going to ask the question a little more gently: why are conversations often held at such a high volume among Koreans?
Background: for some reason, a large proportion of (younger and middle-aged) Koreans who go to coffee shops seem to think that all conversations in such places should be conducted very loudly. One gets the sense that they go home needing a drink of lemon water to soothe the strain on their voices.
It doesn’t help that seating in cafes in Korea is almost invairably crammed, to maximize space but also, I suspect, because of the common attitude in Korea that places that look empty are unpopular and are “bad” while places that looked crammed full of people are popular and “good.”
In contrast, I remember the Second Cup I used to hang out in back on Rue St. Laurent, in Montreal. There were these big, open spaces between a lot of the different seating areas, and the music wasn’t cranked up. I remember reading there, a lot, without headphones. The space inside was, of course, much bigger than almost any coffee shop I’ve been in here in Asia, but it was also more comfortable than any I’ve visited in Asia.
Going to a coffeeshop in Korea is a headphones-non-optional outing, unless you’re with company. How and why did this happen? After all, the coffee shop boom happened among young women, and even today, it’s rare for men to go to such places with only men.
(I note this because Korean women, like women everywhere, tend to be just a little quieter than Korean men, even — or especially? — in big groups.)
I don’t know if it’s the aesthetics of behaviour for bars and pubs being mapped onto coffee shops, or whether it’s just part of thhe general desire to be “active” in their interactions that leads people to behave this way. I’d be really curious to see what others think about this.
Speaking of which, I’ve had a few interesting discussions about etiquette, manners, and so on with Miss Jiwaku and others. One of the interesting things that came up was a comparison of how Westerners developed the etiquette of politeness and gentility that we (at least some of us) hold so dear.
The answer is, etiquette manuals. But that’s the subject for another post… one into which I will be able to work in Robo Taekwon V, too!
Now I know you’re just dying to see it. Well, the loud couple has long gone, and Miss Jiwaku is awake again from the nap she took, so I think I’ll end this here…
… you see a lizard on the bathroom wall and it doesn’t particularly surprise or alarm you.The driver who was sent to pick me up didn’t quite get the explanation he should have, so he drove to Depok, on the wrong side of town
So I’m now waiting for a taxi. Hmm… another day in Jakarta.
The first time it happened was a week ago, and I thought it was a freak accident. Turns out, no, not at all. Samsung Cards crash BNC ATM machines in Jakarta, it seems. Or at least, at the mall I was at.
Other than that, things are going swimmingly. I’m not getting as much work done as I imagined, but I’m getting more reading, relaxing, enjoyment, and even good food than I had imagined, so it all works out. But The Unfortunate Freelance Project I Should Have Turned Down has finally reared its head again to ruin my week. Thank goodness the deadline is the 22nd — it’ll be over and done with soon.
On the brewing side, I have been doing some research in my hunt to find a way to make some version of Finnish sahti, the traditional Finnish beer made with rye and juniper twigs and berries.I don’t know if I can get whole rye, instead of just flour, but it turns out there is a Chinese species of juniper that grows in some parts of Korea, especially Ulleung-do. Sounds like a nice excuse for a trip out there, I guess, if I can’t find samples of Chinese juniper more readily. Something to do on some weekend in the spring, I suppose!
I’m almost done my historical research on Burma (and about to move on to Thai history, and a marvelous book I have on hand here) and I have a short story on which I am working now — a moment of violent decolonization between two radically different societies in a fantastical world. (For those who have read and critiqued “Neither Ynga Nor Kho,” that’s the story I’m on about.) I’ve also been trying to work on my rewrite of a shaggy dog story, the one which was my Week 2 story at Clarion West, involving talking sentientized dogs, but the redraft I attempted last ended up way too dark and apocalyptic, missing much of the human insight and compassion I liked about the original story. We’ll see if I get around to a rewrite this holiday, though: I think the sooner I restart work on A Killing in Burma, the better!
Ah, a word about bookstores in Jakarta.I’ve noticed a few odd things about them. For one, the default speculative fiction genre seems to be fantasy, followed by horror and mystery. SF just ain’t big here, at least not in the English bookshops or English sections of boookshops I’ve visited. Used books sections are interesting, too, and inevitably have one or two space opera novels mixed in among a number of fantasy novels. Japanese manga and western comics and graphic novels seem about equally popular. But there are some odd things I’ve noticed, too: one is that every English-language bookstore or section seems to have way more books about American politics with a clear and obvious right-wing slant than one might imagine, a ton of business, management, and CEO-ish type books, and there is almost always also a “Christian Books” section — I’ve yet to see a section on Islam, but I’ve seen plenty of “Christianity” sections. It’s very odd. My guess is that a lot of the people reading books in English here are either foreign businesspeople (and yes, I dare imagine much of the American part of the international business community here is made up of right-wingers), and also that the religion of choice among Sino-Indonesians has been Christianity. They are the proverbial rich class here, or so is the popular perception — and having visited a couple of Chinese neighborhoods in Jakarta, the houses are frighteningly fancy, indeed — and they’re also the most crazy about learning and mastering English. Still, it’s quite odd.
Oh, and I got what looks like author-autographed copy of Timothy Findley’s novel Pilgrim for five bucks at a shopping mall in Depok, just outside Jakarta. Talk about bizarre. Therewere a few other CanLit books there, too, conspicuously. Canadian expat who stayed long enough to dump the collection? Who knows…
Meanwhile, I just got news that a committee will be meeting next week and among the things being discussed will be the question of whether my professional publications can be accepted as “publications” in terms of the academic publishing requirements, given the fact I am, after all, a Creative Writing major and my training is in this area. (I raised the question in my “suggestions” for the academic evaluations process, which I couldn’t enter into the system because it’s basically the worst user interface I’ve ever encountered, is all in Korean, and only works on Windows. Even the Korean who was helping me was horrified by the webpage and threw hands up in surrender after a little while.) I have no idea whether the recognition of my publications will happen, and feel somewhat doubtful, but it would be nice, and it’s cool that my department head is at least going to bat for me on this.
On my end, I’ve been scrambling to provide documentation for her to bring to the meeting next week. If anyone out there has a copy of either Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, or Best Horror of the Year 1, edited by Ellen Datlow, and access to a scanner, please let me know. I might need to beg you to scan and email me a few pages which I’ll need to pass on for verification of some of my claims (honorable mentions for a number of stories, and the reprint of “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues” in the Dozois anthology).