A few years ago I went to see Shonen Knife in Montreal and during their set my friend Laura said, “They don’t get it.” My immediate reaction was to get defensive, because I thought she was saying they didn’t get the kind of music they were playing, that they didn’t understand what they were doing. It wasn’t until the next day, when I was talking about the show with some other friends who had been there, that I realized what she meant: they didn’t get that nobody there was taking them seriously.
-Exo-M at the Chinese awards show before their official debut (x)
Rule #1: Never ever underestimate the leader’s power
Rule #2: Use your common sense. *facepalms* They’re called ‘Exo-M’ for a reason
Rule #3: KRIS ♥
I’m definitely reading too much into this but I found it interesting that it’s Kris, the Canadian member (and the Chinese member with the weakest command of the language, if his handwriting is any indication), who responds right away to the MC’s comment, correcting her as to their ethnic identities. (She later apologized effusively.) He’s the group’s leader, so he’s speaking in that capacity, but this still gave me shades of Howie Mandel’s xenophobic gaffe with Tiffany two months ago. (If anything, this proves how important it is to me to find someone I can identify with, who does the things that I can’t or that I wish I could.)
I went to a Korean supermarket with my parents yesterday and heard both Wonder Girls’ “Be My Baby” and Teen Top’s “미치겠어 (Crazy)” (above) while I was there. I enjoy hearing K-pop songs in the wild, both because I know them and because it’s a reminder that when I talk about this music, it’s popular music, like when I hear top 40 radio while at work or in the laundromat. These are songs that are made to be a part of your life not just as something you enjoy alone with headphones on, but as something that plays in the background as you go about your everyday activities. They’re songs you know because you hear them all the time. Which is not to say the music shouldn’t be examined in a different way, and the poptimist project is to do that with songs I do often hear as background music when I go shopping outside of ethnically-specific stores. But it’s also to remind myself not to freak out when I hear “Trouble Maker” in a restaurant, or rather to freak out in the same way that I do when I hear, say, “We Found Love” playing while I’m in a store: perk up a bit and stick around at least until the song’s over.
differences between races shouldn’t be erased. they shouldn’t be forgotten. differences should be accepted, embraced, and celebrated.
and they’re acting like this season is going to be incredibly diverse when two of the babies are white and korean.
I’m hoping that this statement is about erasing the differentiations between how people of different nationalities are treated, rather than the differentiations between races themselves, but since I don’t know the intention of the original Korean I can’t assume anything. And if that is what they meant, it would be really hypocritical given that they left in what gets said later by Mir.
Also, to elaborate on my high hopes for the “multicultural” aspect of this show: I remember as a kid being called Chinese by another student and correcting him, saying I was not just Chinese but Korean and Chinese. He replied, “Korean, Chinese, Japanese, what’s the difference?” and it hurt a lot. Though at the time I thought I was just mad because he was wrong, that statement would hurt me now because of his ignorance to the actual differences between Koreans and Chinese and Japanese, differences that I see very clearly, and because of his indifference to something that was important to me. It’s important to me that I’m both Korean and Chinese. That’s why I’m happy about Dayoung’s inclusion on the show, because I feel like “multi-Asian” ethnic identity is not often talked about and I want to have something to relate to. And in a perfect world they would be able to communicate that while treating people differently based on their cultural difference is wrong, cultural difference is important and something to be preserved.
and you’re going to have to repeat it so many times.
Last month I started learning Korean for real with Rosetta Stone, like I said I would. (Actually, I’ve progressed ahead of my brother, if just because he’s started university and has no time and I’ve finished and have lots.) Not sure if it’s improved my comprehension or my grammar skills at all - the only two sentences I can form without 5 minutes of preparation are “The man is drinking water” and “The egg is white”, and don’t ask me how to say “bicycle”. And no, I’ve never thought of “안녕하세요” as a question as the software insists it is (like 10 times a unit) because that’s not how the lady at the grocery store says it.
The one time recently that I have noticed my Korean comprehension improving was, strangely, at the end of Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo 2. Without giving too much away, there’s someone speaking in Korean at the beginning and at the end. What he says at the end isn’t translated, but I understood him saying hello to his family (mother, father, older brother, older sister) and then saying “Lady Gaga 너무 예뻐”, “Lady Gaga is very pretty”. Okay, so any SHINee fan could have gotten that last one, but for a moment I felt both really awesome for immediately hearing and understanding what he said and really sad to realize the full extent to which K-pop has colonized my brain.
Growing up, I could always tell when my mother was talking to my grandma on the phone because she would switch to Korean. I never learned how to speak it myself, aside from my grandma teaching me how to sing "Santoki", which I’ve since forgotten (though the melody has never left my head). Oh, and “pongu”, which got used in my house a lot (it’s the word for “fart”).
When I asked my mother why she never taught her children how to speak Korean, she said it was because 1. she immigrated to Canada at a young age and had only a child’s knowledge of Korean herself; and 2. she didn’t think it was necessary for us as average middle-class Torontonians. Also, our dad came from a Cantonese-speaking family but with more comprehension of the language than ability to speak it, so I think learning only English and French was the simplest option for all of us.
Though I still resent people asking me, “Do you speak ___? Why not?” as if language knowledge were something encoded in my genes, I can’t help but feel as if I missed out on something - even if it’s just because I envied the polyglots among my fellow linguistics students (their knowledge was so much more comprehensive!) or because I felt awkward every time I was introduced to a visiting distant relative who knew about as much English as I did Korean. Of course, since I’ve started listening to K-pop, I have some new things to feel like I’m missing: the untranslated jokes in the fan-subtitled variety programs I watch; the song lyrics as they mean directly, not as someone else has translated them; the things that don’t have any subtitles at all. And I think my academic interest in Korean pop music is all the poorer for it, too, since I can’t actually read Korean articles or netizens’ discussions, let alone ever hope to conduct a productive interview with a Korean person.
Recently one of my younger brothers, who has the same aptitude for and interest in languages that I do, told me that he wants to learn Korean too. We’re planning to do a program like Rosetta Stone together. Since it’s been my goal for a long time, I’m excited to finally start (thankfully, one thing he does not also have is my uncanny ability to keep postponing something that doesn’t have a deadline - for instance, going for a jog).
One thing that K-pop has done for me that I’ve noticed is expand my Korean vocabulary (though not my grammatical knowledge). A lot of this comes from the songs using the same terms over and over again (you have two minutes to find a song that doesn’t contain the word “love”), or from watching and listening to subtitled programs. What I’ve learned from my linguistics training is that as you become more familiar with a language, you can discern individual words out of what is otherwise a continuous, unpredictable sound wave, and this is what is starting to happen as I listen to more Korean media. So, I thought it would be constructive for me to compile a list of all the terms I’ve learned in Korean just from listening to K-pop idols talk or sing. Also, it will really satisfy my OCD.
No hangul because I’m too lazy to look it up, although I am ok at reading it. (This reminds me of another story about my mother, but that’s for another time.) And I’m sure I will add more to this as I learn/remember it.
Sort of a post-graduate/workplace variation on "Too Asian?" but grounded in an Asian-American perspective rather than a non-Asian one, which then segues into a discussion of Asian masculinity. It’s a good examination of why despite the fact that Asian/-American students and workers are supposed to be overachievers, none advance very high into management ranks, always meeting what Yang dubs the “Bamboo Ceiling”. For me it confirms a lot of things I suspected were true but had no evidence of, and I imagine it’s surprising to some people who never thought of it as a covert racism thing (or, more cynically, didn’t think that Asian people could be conscious of covert racism).
Just as with “Too Asian?”, though (albeit less blatantly offensively), I find it problematic that two of the solutions it illustrates before its grand finale (leadership seminars, “how to pick up white girls” workshops) are about, as I wrote in that post, the ethnic person conforming to the non-ethnic person’s standards. Or, as Yang writes, “How do you undo eighteen years of a Chinese upbringing?” (this being the problem that needs to be solved). But Yang seems to agree with me, and undercuts his previous examples in the second half with this speculation:
If the Bamboo Ceiling is ever going to break, it’s probably going to have less to do with any form of behavior assimilation than with the emergence of risk-takers whose success obviates the need for Asians to meet someone else’s behavioral standard.
And it continues from there in the same vein, including an odd moment of solidarity between a white woman who isn’t beautiful by society’s standards and an Asian male who, well, isn’t either. It’s a long but thought-provoking read, less conclusive and more of a jumping-off point - as with anything on such a nebulous, insoluble topic.
As for my own upbringing, it’s been very similar to Yang’s, with Asian culture not primary to my way of life, as both of my parents are about a generation removed from the “homeland”. I used to say it was my mother who was the rebellious immigrant daughter rather than me, and if anything, I’ve rebelled in trying to pick up the threads she deliberately dropped (passing on language, family stories, etc.). Though I recognize some of the values and lessons Yang talks about as a part of my own upbringing - listening to others, being humble rather than arrogant - some of the details are alien to me, like being forced to learn the violin or become a doctor (I mean, look what I studied in university). I find this a common thread in discussions of Chinese-/Korean-Canadians, and it does make me feel alienated from the people who should be “my people” - a sort of third alienation to add to the usual “too Asian for America too American for Asia” double alienation of the Asian-American identity.