Month: February 2012

TOP 5 REASONS WHY I LOATHE K-POP AND YOU SHOULD TOO

It’s low hanging fruit, I know, but sometimes it’s gotta be said:

I hate K-pop.  I hated it when I got here seven years ago and I hate it now.  Sure, there was a time when I attempted to open up and let the manufactured hooks enter my mind; I adopted a culturally relative posture and tried to see it for what it supposedly is: disposable fun.  But fuck that.  K-pop is evil and should be eradicated from the planet.  It’s cancerous and is beginning to be taken seriously by folks who should know better.  Every ten minutes on Korean TV I see some footage featuring chunky European adolescents awkwardly dancing and waving Korean flags while awaiting whatever abortion of a K-pop girl or boy group’s arrival at the airport of their cold, depressing city.  I just traveled with my Korean fiance in Indonesia for a month, and every time the locals discovered that she was Korean, they foamed at the mouth and waxed poetic about how “great” K-pop is.  I wanted to punch every single one of them in the throat.  I’m sick of people pretending that this SHIT MUSIC is good, and here’s why:

1. IT MAKES OTHER ASIANS HATE THEMSELVES

All K-pop stars are young, obscenely skinny, and uber light-skinned.  K-pop is huge in Southeast Asia, where people are darker and shorter than here on the Peninsula.  The women especially eat these groups up like cheap cookies, and then despise themselves for not looking like their idols.  Minhee, my fiance (who is quite beautiful, it must be said), sat down with an ardent K-pop fan at the ferry terminal in Banda Aceh.  The girl in question worked the coffee shop and was very pretty, though much darker and shorter than any Korean, especially the ones marketed for mass consumption via the TV.  “Korean singers are so beautiful,” she said.  “So are you,” Minhee replied honestly.  “You are very pretty.”  “No, no…” the girl shook her head.  “Too black skin.  Wide nose.  Not beauty.”

And… I could have said that it’s racist, but I won’t go there.  Jenny Hyun, a prominent K-pop “songwriter”, already did.

2. THE LYRICS ARE STUPIDER THAN 1,000 GLUE-SNIFFING RETARDS

In a sad attempt to increase its international appeal, K-pop lyrics are often infused with lame, grammatically incorrect, fucked-up English.  It’s fine that they mostly sing in Korean, as they should, because it is K-pop after all.  But the English is just ridiculous and thrown in at the last minute. It’s awful and must be stopped.

3. ALL BOYS LOOK LIKE HYPER-FAGGY ALIENS

Case in point:

:Image

I could publish 10,000 more photos but I think you get the point.

4. IT’S MORE CORPORATE THAN BANK OF AMERICA OR HALIBURTON

Corporations have long had their hand in the music biz, but K-pop takes it to a new level.  All the “management groups” that put together these acts are owned by massive conglomerates.  The music is seen as a commodity, no different than toothpaste or sneakers.  Profit is all that matters, and creativity doesn’t even take a back seat: It’s lucky if it can hitch a ride on the bumper.  K-pop is saccharine pablum shoved down the throats of millions of people who have no clue about good music. It’s Plato’s Cave:  It’s all they’ve ever listened to, so why should they even expect anything better?

5. IT’S NOT EVEN ART, BUT RATHER THE OPPOSITE: ANTI-ART

K-pop is never artist generated.  It’s dreamed up in board rooms full of dudes in suits who reek of garlic and soju.  The songwriting is farmed out to people whose job it is to shit sugary gold.  The casting call goes out and the groups are formed based on looks alone.  Dancing can be taught; singing can be dubbed or auto-tuned.  These kids aren’t artists, they’re barely even performers.  They’re circus animals who do as they’re told.  Any trouble, any hint of rebellion, and it’s the door, kid.  The look of the music – especially for the girls – is sexed-up, but in reality K-pop is as conservative as it gets.  It dares not offend anyone, and in the process proves itself to be the unoriginal, uninspired, corporate produced SHIT that it is.

Koreans are actually incredibly creative people with enough collective angst to produce thousands of Kurt Cobains.  There are punk bands in the city I live in; I personally know several dedicated and fucking soulful musicians who will never see the light of day here.  Real music is rebellion. Real art is threatening and the capitalists will do whatever it takes to make sure that it’s never given a chance.

What annoys me is that K-pop is beginning to be taken seriously by more than just 14-year old girls.  We can all forgive preteens for lapses in taste, but there are adults – Westerners even – who profess love for K-pop and even have blogs dedicated exclusively to it.  It boggles the mind.  And before any of you call me a bigot or some kind of Asia-hater for calling out K-pop for the utter vomit it is, I have always hated awful corporate music.  I remember railing against New Kids on the Block in the late 80’s, as well as every atrocity of a boy band that was shat forth afterwards.  I want ART in my art, and will never apologize.  And usually I wouldn’t bother slamming something as obviously loathsome as K-pop, but these days far too many folks fail to see that the emperor wears no clothes.

Let us hope one day a real artist will come along and rip the guts out of this terrible, phony music, and cause the kids to wake the fuck up.

I, for one, ain’t holding my breath.

THE END OF THE LINE

I’m back in KL, sitting in the little lobby of our discount hotel and trying to figure out how to metabolize four weeks of travel and spew it out in one nice, little, re-digestible blog piece. This trip has both dizzying and intense, with periods of pure loveliness and bliss, even, but it’ll take me a bit to process all the data that flew at my receptors like snowflakes in a blizzard. This cud’s gonna have to get chewed a while…

What I can say it that it’s good to be back in Malaysia’s capital, firmly back in “civilization”. It’s nice that the stares have abated and everywhere I go people don’t shout “Hello mister where you go?” to me. Indonesia is a country where, as a foreigner, it’s nearly impossible to go out a-wandering unmolested. You are showered with attention wherever you are, some of it welcome, some of it not.

I feel like I’ve just returned from a three and a half week camping trip. Last night saw my first hot shower in ages; my first sleep since in which insects did not crawl upon body (though I did get chawed on by a couple of skitters). For once I feel as if I haven’t been slathered in sweat and grime and covered in salt. This morning I actually got to SIT on a toilet where the threat of a venomous snake slithering in unnoticed was incredibly low. I feel clean and it’s nice.

KL is kind of a cool city, the downtown core at least. This place puts the multi in multi-culturalism. It’s a mosaic of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arab, and Western flavors. This is seen in the city’s endless restaurants and food stalls especially. It’s a great place to get down with some food, and after three weeks of Indonesian nasi goreng and the odd rendang curry, I’m ready to make my last meal of the trip count.

I have tons to write about Indonesia, and shall be posting more as the week goes by and I gather my notes. The last days were spent on Pulau Weh, where I spent much of the time under the water, both snorkeling and diving (the sealife is incredible there). We spent a couple of hours yesterday morning touring around Banda Aceh city in a motorbike sidecar. Our driver was a tsunami survivor (ten of his family members died that morning) and he drove us to several spots memoralizing the disaster, including one featuring a fishing boat on the roof of a house that’s been preserved for posterity. The whole experience was gripping and more than very moving. In retrospect I wish I would have spent a couple of days in the city and getting more tsunami stories, but they are often so crushingly tragic that I’m not sure if I would have had the stomach for it. Well, at least I paid my respects.

Time to go eat. See you in Korea.

FROM BUNGUS BEACH

“Bungus Beach. Huhuhuhuhuhu. BUN-GUS. Huhuhuhuhuhuhuhu.”

This is how I imagine Butthead of Beavis and Butthead fame riffing on the name of the place that we’ve called home for the last four days. It is a funny name, one that could cause snickers among millions of American middle school boys, and in some ways, it’s a funny place.

Where the hell are we, exactly?

Go to the map and find the city of Padang, on the west coast of the island of Sumatra (the big long one in Indonesia – huhuhu – he said ‘long one’) and skip down about 20 kilometers. That is where we are.

Sumatra has tons of coastline, but very little of it is developed for tourism. Most of the coast, including Bungus Beach, is just made up of communities of very poor people doing there best to make ends meet, which means they grow rice and other crops inland, and cast nets into the water, hoping to catch dinner, with a bit left over to sell for real cash money.

Bungus is a working beach. It’s mainly humble homes and fishermen, who every day save Friday, stand in the sand and pull in gargantuan nets containing small piles of even smaller fish, though yesterday, in front of the place we’re staying, the got a nice stingray. Score! Steve Irwin is avenged! There are currently just four losmen (Indo gueshouses) here. I’d guess that, in total, there are about 20 foreign tourists currently doing what we do here.

The beach itself is sandy in parts, and coral in others. A fair amount of trash and plastic bags litter the place, but it’s pretty mild by Indo standards, where you come to expect a lot of crap wherever you go. There is absolutely ZERO awareness ecology and the effects of littering in this nation. They got a long way to go… The main reason people come here is to chill out, though the water here isn’t exactly clean, and you see almost no travelers taking a dip. What they do instead is take boats to the cluster of idyllic islands south of here, where they can stay in basic bungalows, or, as we elected, visit as a day trip. The snorkeling is mighty and the water as clear as it gets. In our outing I saw a shitload of fish and even spotted a massive, blue moray eel. Showpiece sealife.

We’re staying at a place called Carlos Losmen, run by a long haired guy whose name graces the place. Carlos sports a shower of a ponytail and chainsmokes kreteks, which is what the locals call clove cigarettes, the carcinogen of choice in Indo. EVERYONE smokes here. I’ve started again. If you don’t smoke in Indonesia you feel like an asshole. When in Rome and all that.

The mosquitoes are brutal here. Our first night was spent at the lower rent TinTin Losmen, where we slept without a net and were terrorized all night by what must have been hundreds of the little black fuckers. We got well ‘et, chawed to bits. Our current digs are set up with a net, but it has a few holes and a couple smart ones always manage to sneak in, though the eucalyptus oil I slather myself in before turning in seems to do the trick. I did bring 90 percent deet, but the Indonesian skitter quakes not in the face of such power. You gotta use the local shit.

We’ve met some great travelers here, most all Euros, of course. Places like this get the best breed of traveler. It’s a cunt to get here so it weeds out the lightweights and whiners. Everyone’s been nice as can be and we’ve had a number of good meals and good company, washed down with Bintang Beer, Indo’s main brew, which is tasty enough when cold but rather dear at about $3.50 USD a bottle, which is two or three times the price of beer in other countries. I’m told it’s a Muslim sin tax. Beer is a major cost to factor in when I travel, so, fellow boozers, take this into account when you plan your trip to Indonesia.

We’ve met a lot of Dutch people here. This is their old colony and I think they want it back.

Bungus Beach has been good to us. It ain’t glamorous. There are no techno parties. There are no bikinis. There are no fire shows. There is Bob Marley’s Legend however, which is on autoplay on every beach restaurant or bar in the tropics, including sleepy little Bungus.

We fly outta here tonight, but to shitty old Medan, but in the morning we head up to the jungle town of Bukit Lawan, where we’ll head into the bush and see real, live ORANGUTANS. I am actually really excited about this. I have nothing cynical to say, really.

Yet.

SOME NOTES ON INDONESIA

Okay, I’ve officially been here for more than two weeks now, which is more than enough time for me to develop well-formed and snarky opinions about a place. Let me preface everything by saying that we are having a true gas here. Sumatra is gorgeous, exotic, and intriguing, yet at the same time, a festering, overpopulated hell mouth. So here are some brief thoughts.

YOU AIN’T IN THAILAND ANYMORE

Thailand is a beautiful country with delicious food, emerald mountains, pristine beaches and smiling people. This is why tens of millions of tourists descend on the place each year, as if Thailand were the only country worth visiting in SE Asia. And in some ways, it is. The place is lovely, traveler-friendly, and most importantly, has serious tourist infrastructure. Indonesia is not (at least Sumatra). We’ve been the only foreigners an nearly all the transportation we’ve taken in this country. Sure, we arrive in small pockets where smattering of non-Indo faces can be seen, but travelers are few and far between. This country is rough and inconvenient. Shit is often done half-assed and filth is everywhere. It’s a poor place on steroids with the energy of a ADD addled five year old. We just got to a lovely stretch of beach on the Indian Ocean and yes, a lot of trash littered the beach and bobbed in the water. Yay.

THE FOOD IS AWFUL

I love curry and yes, the Indos do some great fucking curries, but good luck getting any that hasn’t been sitting out in front of a restaurant window for sixteen hours. Outside of fried noodles and fried rice, which are literally EVERYWHERE, it’s nearly impossible to get a meal prepared to order, with the exception of the handful of cafes that cater to the slow trickle of visitors in the “tourist” areas. What we get instead is the same they have in the Philippines. A load chewy meats, fish fried beyond recognition (“Are those mushrooms?” Minhee asked), and bits of greens shoots all slathered in atomic chili sauces designed to wage war against both e coli and single-celled micro-organisms. The unfortunate contents of these dishes are heaped upon rice and then sloppily scooped up with the right hand. Come on folks, have a bit of pride in your cuisine. The Vietnamese are poor too, but that doesn’t stop those motherfuckers from DIALING THEIR SHIT IN.

THE MONEY CHANGERS ALL SUFFER FROM SEVER OCD

I arrived in this country with 900 US dollars, as in 9 crisp 100-dollar bills. I decided to change the whole lot into rupiah (the local play money) while in Medan, and went to several banks to get a good rate, but moreover, in a vain attempt to get the assholes to accept two of the hundred dollar notes, both of which had NEARLY IMPERCEPTIBLE creases in the upper right and lower left corners, respectively. No bank would take these two almost perfect 100 dollar bills. I finally found another money changer who reluctantly accepted the notes, albeit at an inferior rate. What gives with the anal-retentiveness when it comes to cash? It’s not like their nasty, grime-covered, crumpled-ass worthless currency is easy on the eyes.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Indonesian teenagers are badass. In the cities and towns they all dress in converse and skinny jeans and wear Exploited T-shirts. They all start smoking when they’re like, seven, and seriously dig punk rock and metal. A college kid shadowed me during a trip to the market in Bukittingi, and peppered me with questions. Eventually I warmed to the kid and lobbed some back his way. When I asked him about his favorite kind of music, without blinking, he replied, “Grunge! I love grunge!” When I told him that I was from Seattle and had actually seen a number of these bands that he worshiped, I could visibly make out the wet spot forming on his jeans. It’s gotten so bad in Aceh province that they’ve started putting the local punks into Islamic re-education camp. I’m not sure if this phenomenon is spread all throughout the archipeligo or not, though. I suspect that it’s confined to Sumatra, which, with its clouds, trees, and volcanoes, reminds me of a tropical version of the Pacific Northwest.

PLASTIC BAGS ARE TRULY RUINING THE PLANET. NO, REALLY. I’VE SEEN IT.

Yesterday MH and I hired a guide in Bukittingi to take us into a jungle canyon right on the outskirts of the town. They guy was some kind of medicinal plant savant, ripping up leaves and stems for us to sniff, rub on our skin, and chew on. The guy truly knew his shit. He showed us several troupes of monkeys, and a massive colony of fruit bats (locally referred to as ‘flying dogs’), which he made take to the air after banging on some wood and screaming. There were hundreds of them and they were awesome and HUGE. He took us up and down trails and then to the river itself. The day trip was amazing, but there was one teensy catch. The whole of the river bank – and this includes all of the sand bars and islands and driftwood – were covered with trash, most notably, plastic bags. The place looked like a fucking garbage dump – and I’m not talking about one little section that we walked through – but rather the whole thing. It was depressing as fuck and deflated what was otherwise a truly amazing little trek/nature tour. Something’s gotta be done, since things as they stand are well outta hand.

Okay, there are my initial thoughts. I apologize to any Indonesians reading this here post, but your beautiful country is also one giant ballache, which is exactly what I expected.

We’re probably going to disappear to an island for a couple days, so no more interneting for me, which has been the mantra of the trip, actually.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… relaxation.