Exploding heads

I had a frozen margarita in a darkened alley near Union Hall last night. My friend had a pink sangria, with frozen berries floating in it. It was quiet, just us on barstools at a table to ourselves, and another group a few tables over. We spoke quickly and intensely and without stopping for an hour, maybe more, until the server came by to announce last call, though it was only 10 p.m.

When we got up to leave, my friend asked if we should get another drink, and even though 16 ounces of margarita is enough to make my body feel weightless, I said yes. I wanted to be out in the streets of Brooklyn, amid whoever and whatever was left in this sultry city. So we walked up Fifth Avenue passing diners and revelers in the newly configured outdoor restaurants, lining the street, and spilling onto the pavements. We ordered beer indoors with masks on—”I’ll serve you,” the bearded bartender said when we asked if they were still open. He was the only human in the storefront, standing behind the long polished wood bar.

We took the beers to a table at the curb, in what once was a parking space and continued the conversation. This time my friend spoke earnestly about trying to become more accepting of his own feelings, and more mindful of his ego, and to try less to preempt things—to scan everyone else’s possible feelings and reactions before they even happen, in order to alleviate them—something that he and I have in common. He misunderstood the question that I’d asked, which was a more practical question about how he was going about his new efforts at discipline: getting abs, playing the banjo, eating healthier, though I’m glad he did.

I biked back around midnight, lightheaded and sweaty, even with the thick breeze and in a quick summer shower that petered out quickly.

I woke at 6am with a familiar weight in my forehead, still wearing the shorts I had worn the night before.

Thinking I was hungover I took Advil and tried to sleep it off, in denial that the alcohol had triggered a migraine: the flame of pain on the right side of my skull, the daze, the inability to mesh my perception with the reality around me, were obvious indicators. So I spent most of the day pretending to believe that coffee and Advil and a little bit of pushing myself was enough. I sent a quick email to my boss so he’d know I was alive, then ignored everything work related.

By early afternoon, the pain and nausea were bad enough that I went back to bed and curled up amid a mess of clothes, with an ice pack over my forehead. I tried reading on my phone, and when that wasn’t enough to distract me, I repeated like a mantra in my head,”I want to die, I want to die, I want to die.”

In the past, when the migraines were bad I’d imagine a gun shooting my head and the whole thing exploding. Not visually. Just the immense feeling of relief. The pain gone. Nothing left to hurt. Over and over, I’d imagine the gun, the shot, the explosion. Poof. No more pain.

This wasn’t about death, it was about relief. So I was surprised to hear the words in my head. The gun seemed more benign. By switching it to words, it remained similarly situational, but also it opened a door to thoughts I might not otherwise consider. What would it really be like if I were no longer here? If I died on this bed, surrounded by laundry and pita chips and blue Ikea bags?

In the nature of migraines, the thoughts didn’t go much further. They repeated on a loop with short bursts of what-ifs. Who would find me. How long would it take. What about the pita chips. What if I never felt this ever again. What if my head, and the pandemic, and injustice, and bylines, and subtweets, and love, and disappointment, and missing PPE, and the census and the postal service and birthdays and color-coded sticky notes and health insurance and the American experiment descending into authoritarianism, ceased. Exploded. Poof.

괜잖다

I’m on a Lee Jung-suk kick, which started when I watched W on Viki, then moved on to School 2013, then Doctor Stranger, which is awful, and now I’m in the midst of While You Were Sleeping, which apparently is super beloved, but I’m finding pretty boring.

I shouldn’t have liked School 2013 as much as I did because it’s a pretty unsophisticated high school drama, but I’m a sucker for teen dramas anyway, especially when the teen in question is Lee Jung-suk standing up to bullies, and being too cool for school as well a super nice guy. (I basically skipped all the teacher parts, because that really was boring.)

There’s a scene in the beginning of episode 2, where Lee Jung-suk’s character, Ko Nam-soon, arrives home from school. In the space of two days he’s been wrongly accused twice of wrongdoing by the school, and he’s been beaten up twice by the school bully. He’s also had to pick up his drunk, deadbeat Dad, and work a nighttime gig as a delivery boy.

When he arrives home, after being beaten for the second time, he enters his room, lies down on the bed, clearly in pain, and just repeats to himself a few times:

“괜잖다. 괜잖다. 괜잖다.”

“I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

It makes your heart go out to him. And it’s actually one of the few times we see the toll that his life is taking on him, since he usually pulls off the super cool, nothing bothers me, attitude.

Besides for obviously pulling on your heartstrings, I personally liked the scene because of the word he uses. 괜잖다 is used so frequently in Korean (or at last Korean dramas)—mostly in the 괜잖아/요 form in dialogue (as in I’m okay/are you okay?/it’s okay)—that it actually started to mean that in my brain. And I love that feeling when a word in another language stops being a foreign symbol to memorize, but actually starts to mean the thing that it means, if that makes sense.

Also, he uses the word in the infinitive form, and I’m not sure why or if it conveys something different than if he’d conjugated it somehow. The subtitles translated it as “I’m okay” but I think it could just have easily been translated to “It’s okay” because there’s no subject, and It’s making me wonder if there’s actually a distinction to a Korean speaker. Obviously, he wasn’t translating in English in his mind, so what did he mean, did he mean “I’m okay” or “It’s okay” or would he not differentiate?

Adventures in Konglish

My Korean has advanced to the point that I can make out English proper nouns in Korean news, spoken in the wonderful transmorphic way that languages have of twisting themselves into something new, and what some people call Konglish.

Although perhaps in the case of proper nouns, that’s not actually Konglish? I mean, how do you say California if not 갤리포니아, which transliterates/romanizes to kel-li-po-ni-ah?

In any case, in the ongoing mystery of why I haven’t given up on Korean, I have now begun listening/watching video clips on MBC News, because I stumbled upon the fact that they provide the transcripts to 2-3 minute news clips on their site. Which is absolutely gold.

In the sea of illegible (to me) Korean that is the MBC homepage, I use the thumbnails to guide me, and try to find a clip that features Donald Trump, the coronavirus, or something that might give me a few clues as to what the clip is about.

The upside to this is that I now know how to say ‘confirmed cases’, ‘positive results’, and ‘rapidly increasing’ in Korean. The downside is that I die a little of humiliation/anger/sadness each time I listen to the clip.

Which in the grand scheme of things seems like an okay tradeoff?

Tbh my Korean is not good enough to understand any of it, but I input the text in Learning With Texts, translate some of the words, and then listen to it a few times, mostly making out words like Keliponia, Terompe, Korona, Hyuseton, and Pilorida.

I watched 60 hours of Korean dramas in June

I mean that’s the tweet.

I went through my Netflix and Viki history yesterday and counted 60 episodes of Korean dramas that I watched or rewatched in June. It’s not an exact number, because neither platform tells how long you spent on the episode but it balances out.

I watched the entire Kill Me Heal Me (because Park Seo-Joon) on Viki, started watching Memories of the Alhambra (because Hyun Bin) on Netflix, and rewatched most of Stranger, the very first Korean show I ever watched and it absolutely holds up.

I guess I should excuse the ungodly amount of TV I watched on the pandemic, or the fact that that I kind-of self-quarantined for 14 days last month, and/or that I’m studying Korean?

But also, who cares? I’m still al little confused by people who talk about kdramas like they’re all the same thing? I don’t know if they have the concept of prestige TV in Korea, but it seems pretty obvious that there’s a huge range in the genre and quality of Korean shows, and thanks to Netflix and Viki, there’s this insane wealth available to everyone outside Korea.

That being said, the two main shows I watched this month, Kill Me Hill Me and Healer, are as far as I can tell pretty in line with the most basic k-drama tropes.

Both are essentially a romance between a stoic-loner-type man with a tragic backstory, and a spunky/manic-pixie-woman with her own tragic backstory. Amazingly, in both, the two leads knew each other when they were young but don’t remember it (because apparently people can’t remember things before like 8 in Korea?), and in both the woman doesn’t know her true identity. They also both feature evil CEOs, chaebol intrigue, and packs of besuited security guards/gangsters, as is par for the course.

As far as the sexism goes, at least in Healer, the woman’s arc is of parallel importance to the guy’s, whereas in Kill Me Heal Me, she literally exists only to help heal the male lead. Not only that, but he basically tricks her into being his personal maid who’s on call for 24/7, and when she tries pretty rationally to claim that that’s insane, he says well you signed the contract, and also I need you.

Still, the Korean take on the manic-pixie-romantic-heroine (or did the Americans take it from Korea?) is pretty wild. In both Healer and Kill Me, the women are professionals in their late-ish twenties — a psychiatrist and a journalist — with plenty going on in their own lives, and generally try to resist the leading man’s advances at the beginning. They also tend to talk a lot, break rules in very benign ways, embarrass themselves, and dress in normie clothes, to distinguish them from the villain girls/second love interests who are always way better dressed. (Is there an equivalent of being self-deprecating when it’s not about the self?)

But then they just kind of fall into the romantic arc, and nothing else matters? They cry a lot, and pine for their man, and usually save him a few times, often by being brave and standing up to other men, all in the name of love. Although to be fair, that happens to the men too. Because these are romantic dramas obviously.

I’ll save my review of Stranger for another time because I really like that show, and it’s absolutely nothing like these.

To round off the 60 hours, I also started some sappier dramas like Guardian and Revolutionary Love but gave up after one or two episodes, and rewatched scenes from Itaewon Class and Crash Landing on You, though that was actually because I’m studying Korean.

Quarantine queue

I know I should be watching Normal People, or Killing Eve, or finally watching Fleabag, which everyone swears I’ll love. (The last person who told me that, I was too lazy/scared to tell him that I actually had watched the first episode, or maybe two or maybe half, and I just could not watch another show about a starving-artist-Brooklynite follow the same stylized reality that I actually lived, and make entertainment of it.) I understand those shows are good, and when I watch them I’ll enjoy them, and I’ll enjoy being part of the discourse that happens about them on the internets. 

But I can’t because I’m too busy watching Hwarang, which is an absolutely bonkers Korean drama about warrior poets, and love triangles, and kings and queens in ancient Korea wearing robes and usurping thrones, and of course evil misters and plagues and beheadings and forbidden loves. I started watching it because the lead is Park Seo-Joon, who is the lead in Itaewon Class, a Korean drama that’s available on Netflix and therefore somewhat crossed the divide into somewhat mainstream zeitgeist, and is actually good as far as Korean dramas go, as in I would not be deadly embarrassed to recommend it to other people as opposed to Hwarang, which is basically terrible and a ton of fun to watch. (And deserves a whole other discussion on why it’s good, and not just dumb good, or maybe yes, and I’m just dumb?)

Thanks to Park Seo-Joon, I have learned that Korean actors are supper accessible on YouTube. He has his own channel which is just him doing things like eating food in the Philippines and getting haircuts and being extremely aware of how good looking he is. The videos are badly edited, the audio is terrible, and the intro is a montage of him looking sexy with just the word “attractive” overplayed at some point, which apparently he (or his team) doesn’t realize doesn’t actually have the same ring in English, or any ring at all. Plus, there’s a ton of behind the scenes content and interviews where he plays Jenga with his co-stars, and continues to be extremely aware of how charing he is, and it’s extremely confusing/fun to stumble on a whole other culture of celebrity and entertainment, and a great way to spend the pandemic while ostensibly learning Korean. 

Radicalized, by Corey Doctorow

Goodreads review:

Disappointingly simplistic.

I read an incisive short story by the author, Cory Doctorow, about algorithms a while ago, when I was writing about algorithmic accountability, that helped articulate some ideas for me. So I’ve been meaning to read more of his work, and I was excited to find someone who I thought would offer some insight into this Black Mirror-y world we live in. 

But this collection of stories resorts to easy moralizing. The four stories–about a superhero who tries to intervene in police brutality, a plucky immigrant who hacks her toaster, an Ayn Randian prepper, and a group of grieving Dads fed up with the insanity of our healthcare system–are populated by caricatures of evil hedge fund managers, faceless corporations, and righteous commoners. 

OTOH it’s an easy read, the toaster story is actually better than okay, and maybe if you don’t spend half your life on Twitter getting pounded over the head with these issues, it’ll provide some food for thought.