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日本の随筆:福岡

去年11月、彼女と福岡に旅行しました。私は韓国にすむようになってから日本によく行きますが、彼女は日本に行ったことが全然ありませんでした。大阪は私の一番好きな日本の都市ですが、長い間、韓国からとても近い福岡にも興味を持っていました。そして福岡に関する雑誌を買って、福岡についてよく知っているアメリカ人の友達にオススメを聞きました。

私たちが着いた日は雨でした。エアビーアンドビーアパートを見つけるとすぐにけんがくしました。まず行きたかった所の<屋根裏貘>という喫茶店で赤ワインをゆっくり飲みました。そして、友達が推薦した地下にある回転寿司店に夕食をしに行って、そのビルで買い物をしました。彼女は日本のほうが韓国より可愛いしなものが、よりずっとたくさんあると不思議に感じました。

私は日本に行くたびにジャズを聴くことができる場所を見つけます。一番好きなジャズライブ会場は沖縄で見つけましたが、福岡にある会場で楽しく夜を過ごしました。サントリーウィスキーを飲みながらギターを二重奏で弾く音楽を聴きました。そのアーティストのCDを買いたかったのですが、そこで既に1万円ぐらいを使いました。

私は日本の建築に興味がありますから、福岡に見たかった建物がいくつかありました。太宰府という街でも面白い建物をみました。大部分の人は有名な神社を見に行きますが、私はスターバックスを見に行きました。なぜなら、太宰府のスターバックスは建築家の隈研吾によって設計されました。彼女が神社を見学している間、私はスターバックスの写真を撮りました。

ある日、福岡にある大きな駅の一つ前に、交差点全体ほどの大きさのシンクホールが、突然現れました。駅からたくさんの人々がシンクホールの写真とビデオを撮影していました。数日後に直りました。アメリカでは、そんなに早く復興しないでしょう。

韓国で和食をあまり食べませんので、福岡で豚カツとしゃぶしゃぶとオムライスを食べました。そして、ラーメンやデパートの試食も食べました。最終日の夕食は、友達が知っている夫婦が運営している居酒屋に行って、福岡について話しながら楽しく過ごしました。居酒屋の経営者は福岡は住みやすいですが ちょっとつまらないと言いました。福岡に住んでいる人にとって、本当の事かもしれませんが、私にとっては福岡は相変わらず面白いです。とにかく、次の機会に見たい建物と食べたい食べ物がまだたくさん残っています!

Los Angeles in Buildings: the Braly Block

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I once took a Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour whose leader, having brought us atop Bunker Hill, gestured toward an old building over on Spring Street and told us a story from his former career as a city employee. One day he needed a ride home and a higher-up in his department offered it. Generous though that act might make him seem, this man’s job, as our tour guide described it, required the opposite of large-heartedness: he spent most days at the office finding reasons to reject as many of the building or rebuilding proposals that crossed his desk as possible, and spent the entire hour’s drive to Long Beach laying acerbically into the developer responsible for the latest pile of paperwork in his inbox: some guy who wants to do a residential conversion of some empty offices downtown, a dreamer so delusional that “he actually believes people are going to live on Spring Street!

That developer, as anyone with an eye on the transformation of modern Los Angeles will have guessed, was Tom Gilmore, the gregarious New Yorker now widely credited with sparking the return of a large residential population, and the varied day-and-night activity such a population brings, to a largely forgotten downtown. That anecdote gets a reliable laugh in the midst of a boom that makes its starring city official look like a blinkered record label executive sending away the Beatles or investor passing on Facebook. But by the late 1990s when Gilmore launched into his mission in earnest, longtime Angelenos had grown accustomed to hearing rumors of a coming downtown revival at least once a decade, rumors that never seemed to produce much enticement to go there, let alone move there. Yet at some point in the 2000s, it became undeniable that this one had actually taken.

The Spring Street structure the Conservancy guide pointed out was the Continental Building, first known when it opened in 1904 as the Braly Block. “That’s L.A.’s first skyscraper,” says Tom Hansen, the young aspiring architect protagonist of Marc Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer,” gesturing toward the building from his own Bunker Hill perch beside his titular romantic interest. That movie, one of the first set amid the renewed (if occasionally exaggerated) street life of 21st-century downtown Los Angeles, prominently features the architecture of the central city, or at least its architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century. Though he goes unnamed in the dialogue, no single architect had as much responsibility for the look and feel of Los Angeles’ built environment at that time than John Parkinson, designer of the Braly Block.

Read the whole thing at KCET.

Axt: 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>

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이번 (타와다 요코 표지가 있는!) 호 Axt (1월/2월, #010)에 내 첫번째 한국어로 쓴 서평은 나온다. 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>에 대한 것이다.

My first print article in Korean, on redemption and J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, in this month’s issue of Axt (January/February 2017, #010) — and one with a Yoko Tawada cover, no less!

Korea Blog: How “Seopyeonje” Went from Tradition-Fueled Passion Project to Art-House Megahit

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One singer and one drummer on an otherwise nearly bare stage, expressing the pain of Korea for four or five hours: the prospect, to a great many foreigners, does not immediately appeal. Then again, despite its deep roots in the culture, the traditional form of musical storytelling called pansori (판소리) didn’t much appeal to a great many Koreans for a long stretch of the twentieth century, if not due to  distaste then to unfamiliarity. But “Korea’s opera” has seen a revival of interest in recent decades, due in part to the massive success in 1993 of a movie about, and only about, the then seemingly dying art and the emotion that drives it: Im Kwon-taek’s Seopyeonje (서편제).

The prolific Im, still working today after 102 films and counting, directed in the first years of the 1990s  a trilogy of popular gangster pictures, General’s Son (장군의 아들) and its two sequels. (You can watch the first of them on the Korean Film Archive’s Youtube channel, as well as Im’s 1976 Wangsimni, My Hometown, the last movie we featured in this series.) Their considerable box-office return gave him a free hand to make a passion project, and on paper Seopyeonje looks like the very definition of one: a middle-aged filmmaker who remembers a very different time in his rapidly developing homeland tells a story, in the form of a period piece within a period piece, of a wandering pansori master and his two young charges whom history has already left behind, but whose suffering only enriches the tradition to which they have dedicated their lives.

That suffering produces an emotion much written about as unique to the Korean people: han (한, often written with the Chinese character 恨), variously explained in English as “lifelong regret,” “a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds” connoting “aspects of lament and unavenged injustice,” the “sentiment that one develops when one cannot or is not allowed to express feelings of oppression, alienation, or exploitation because one is trapped in an unequal power relationship,” and an “acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong.” Fictional United States President Josiah Bartlet, on the episode of The West Wing when he has to turn away a North Korean asylum-seeker, explains it as “a sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there’s hope.”

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

콜린의 한국 이야기: 서울과 로스앤젤레스의 차이 점은 뭘까?

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나는 한국에 이사오기 전에 사년 동안 로스앤젤레스에 살았다. 로스앤젤레스에 살 때 한국어를 매일 할 수 있고 한식을 매일 먹을 수 있는 동네인 한인타운에 살았음에도 불구하고 서울에 사는 것과 아주 다른 경혐이었다. 지금이 겨울이어서 제일 큰 차이 점을 생각하면 날씨가 쉽게 떠오를 수 있지만 사실 나에게 이런 추운 날씨는 생각과는 다르게 무관하다. 애매하게 들릴지도 모르지만 서울과 로스앤젤레스는 전체적으로 다른 분위기를 가진다.

어떻게 보면 나는 서울이나 로스앤젤레스에서 비슷한 생활방식으로 살아왔다. 로스앤젤레스에서는 거의 매일 다른 커피샵에 글을 쓰러 갔고 서울에서도 그렇지만 서울에서 대부분의 커피샵은 집에서 걸어 갈 수 있는 거리에 있다. 로스앤젤레스의 경우에는 내가 가장 좋아하는 커피샵들이 서로 멀리 떨어져 있어서 나는 자주 자전거나 버스나 지하철을 타야 했다. 심지어 내가 살았던 한인타운에 있는 커피샵도 걸어 갈 수 있는 거리에 있지는 않았다!

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서울은 원래 커피샵들로 가득 찬 도시이지만 반면에 로스앤젤레스는 걸어 갈 수 있는 장소들이 적은편이다. 왜냐하면 로스앤젤레스보다 서울의 인구 밀도가 높기 때문이다. 인구 밀도가 높으면 당연히 가게의 숫자도 늘어날 것이다. 따라서 서울과 같은 대도시들에서는 많은 사람들이 집 근처의 다양한 곳에 쉽게 걸어 갈 수 있다. 하지만 로스앤젤레스와 같은 대도시들에는 단독 주택 밖에 없는 동네들을 흔히 볼 수 있다. 그런 지역에서는 물론 버스나 자전거로 갈 수 없을 뿐만 아니라 걸어 간다는 것은 상상할 수도 없다.

로스앤젤레스와 비교해 보면 서울에서는 단독 주택에 사는 사람들이 많지 않다. 로스앤젤레스는 수평 도시이면서 간혹 고층 건물들이 존재해 있고 이와는 달리 서울은 수직 도시이지만 드물게 낮은 건물들도 있는 도시라고 쉽게 묘사할 수 있다. 요즘에는 로스앤젤레스의 인구 밀도가 팽창하고 있고 고층 건물들의 숫자가 증가하고 있음에도 불구하고 처음으로 개발되었을 때 유휴지가 아주 넓어서 단독 주택과 같은 주거형태가 많이 생겨났다.

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서울은 50년대부터 80년대까지 재건축되면서 로스앤젤레스보다 훨씬 많은 사람들을 급속도록 받아들여야만 했기 때문에 도시계획을 오직 수직 방향으로 갈 수 밖에 없었다. 그래서 오늘 날의 서울사람들은 대부분 고층 건물에서 살고 일하며 삶을 즐기는 것에 익숙해졌다. 이와는 다르게 아직도 그런 수직 도시의 삶을 불편하게 여기는 로스앤젤레스 사람들은 여전히 큰 정원이 있는 단독 주택의 삶을 선호할 뿐만 아니라 매일 자동차를 운전해 직장에 가는 것 외에 다른 것을 거의 상상하지 않는다.

앞서 얘기했던 것을 기반으로 서울의 제일 큰 장점은 쉬운 접근성을 포함한 편리함이라고 할 수 있고 로스앤젤레스의 제일 큰 장점은 서울에서 쉽게 찾아 보기 힘든 편안함이라고 할 수 있다. 그렇지만 서울과 로스앤젤레스의 공통적인 단점은 대부분의 대도시가 가지고 있는 고단한 삶이라고 할 수 있지만 서로의 양상은 다르다. 시간이 가면 갈 수록 로스앤젤레스의 장점을 서울이라는 도시에서 어렵지 않게 찾아 볼 수 있고 서울의 장점 또한 로스앤젤레스에서 쉽게 나타난다.

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그렇지만 로스앤젤레스의 제일 좋은 점은 서울과 같은 아시아 도시에서 쉽게 찾아 볼 수 없는 다양성인 것 같다. 거기에서는 다양한 음식을 맛 볼 수 있고 또한 다양한 건축물을 볼 수도 있으며 다양한 사람들도 만날 수 있다. 예를 들면 한국에 온 로스앤젤레스 출신의 미국 사람들이나 로스앤젤레스에서 살았던 적이 있는 한국 사람들은 남쪽 칼리포니아에서 맛있게 자주 먹을 수 있는 멕시코 음식을 몹시 그리워한다.

뿐만 아니라 나한테는 거기에서 다양한 언어를 연습할 수 있다는 사실이 특히 흥미롭다. 로스앤젤레스 공항에 도착하면 “도시 자체가 세계인 로스앤젤레스에 오신 걸을 환영합니다”라는 표지판을 누구나 볼 수 있다. 내가 만약 그 표지판을 쓴다 해도 이보다 더 정확하게 묘사하지 못 했을 것이지만 서울은 로스앤젤레스가 표방하는 도시 자체가 세계라는 슬로건과는 달리 세계일 필요는 없다.

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최근 몇 년간 여기에 로스앤젤레스에서 맛 볼 수 있는 멕시코 음식과 견줄만한 멕시코 음식을 파는 식당까지 생겼고 나는 가끔 그러한 외국 음식을 먹기도 하지만 주로 한국 음식을 먹고 한국 영화를 보며 한국 책을 읽는 것에 익숙하며 그러한 익숙함을 즐길 수 있다는 사실에 만족한다. 나는 원래 다양성을 아주 좋아하지만 소위 말하는 서양의 다문화 도시들에 거주하면서 그러한 다양성이 어떻게 큰 문제가 될 수 있는지를 알아차렸다. 완전히 다른 사고 방식을 가지고 있고 완전히 다른 생활방식을 영위하고 있는 사람들이 서로 가까이에 살게 되면 서로간의 고충이 쌓일 수 있다. (더군다나 미국 사람들의 총기 소유가 합법적이라는 사실을 간과할 수 없다.)

한국인 친구는 나에게 서울의 대부분을 차지하는 인구가 한국인이라서 서울에서 사는 것을 안전하게 느낀다고 말했다. 예를 들면 지하철안에서 옆에 서 있는 그와는 무관한 다른 승객들이 그와 같은 한국 사람인 것을 인지 한다고 했다. 나는 외국인으로서 그렇게 느낄 수는 없지만 서울의 지하철 시스템은 그 자체가 참으로 훌륭하다고 생각한다. 미국의 대중 교통은 좋지 않은 평판을 가지고 있고 이와 더불어 많은 미국인들은 로스앤젤레스 지하철의 존재여부를 알지도 못 한다. 사실 로스앤젤레스는 지하철이 있을 뿐만 아니라 다른 어떤 미국 도시들보다 더 많은 철도 노선들을 건설하고 있는 중이다.

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나는 항상 바뀌고 있는 로스앤젤레스가 앞으로 어떤 도시가 될 것인가에 큰 관심이 있어서 언젠가 거기에 가서 다시 살고 싶지만 더불어 서울의 미래에 변화에도 지대한 관심을 가지고 있다. 두 도시의 가장 큰 공통점은 아무리 나쁜 첫인상을 받아도 그 도시들을 잘 알고 이해하면 그 만큼 즐기고 음미할 수 있게 된다는 것이다.

그 때문에 앞으로 내가 제일 좋아하는 두 도시인 서울과 로스앤젤레스에 교차해 거주하면서 그 도시들이 가지는 장점에 대하여 지속적으로 알아가고 싶다. 앞에서 언급한 바와 같이 서울의 날씨는 나에게 큰 문제가 되지는 않지만 생각해보면 가을과 봄에 서울에 있고 겨울과 여름에는 로스앤젤레스에 있는 것이 가장 이상적이라고 할 수도 있겠다. 그러한 이유둘 중 하나는 두 도시가 가지는 날씨의 차이 점에서 찾아 볼 수도 있다.

Roland Barthes’ Tokyo: “Empire of Signs” Fifty Years Later

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Roland Barthes first visited Japan in 1966, not long after the defeated and reconstructed country announced its return to the international community with the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Japan would have hosted its first Olympic Games there in 1940, had World War II not caused the duty to pass to Helsinki. Now, half a century after the semiotician from Cherbourg walked its streets, the Japanese capital prepares for its second Summer Olympics in 2020, in hopes of signaling another reemergence: not from wartime devastation by the most advanced weapons known to man, but from the long hangover of the postwar economic bubble, burst in the 1990s, and the subsequent “lost decade” now turning into a lost quarter century.

By most economic and demographic indicators, Japan has long looked like a country in trouble, even though a foreign visitor sees signs of robust health everywhere: a refined and efficient service culture; reliable infrastructure; conspicuous displays of high technology; shops filled with an astonishing amount and variety of carefully designed products; lively packs of uniformed schoolchildren, the smallest of whom ride on the back seats of their mothers’ bicycles. The aftermath of 2011’s Tōhoku earthquake may have exposed deep and previously unsuspected societal frailties, and yet, on every one of my trips to Japan I marvel at all those well-put-together moms calmly biking their kids to school. Surely they indicate an achievement of which the rest of the developed world, no matter its wealth, can only dream — even if on paper the country itself looks about to lie down and die.

As a pioneer in the study of signs and symbols, Barthes would have enjoyed grappling with all the conflicting signals sent out by 21st-century Japan. He lived through most of the postwar years when the Japanese economy grew at an unprecedented rate, but he missed the downright grotesque inflation of Japanese asset prices in the decade after his death in 1980. By then the West, and especially the United States, nervously fixated on images of flush Japanese tourists landing in Hawaii and buying mansions in cash, sharp-suited Japanese businessmen lavishly entertaining on sinisterly vast expense accounts, and Croesan Japanese conglomerates snapping up Los Angeles’s movie studios and downtown high-rises.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

I talk about “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and the Los Angeles streetcar conspiracy on KPCC

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This week I talked with A Martinez, host of KPCC-FM’s Take Two, about how Who Framed Roger Rabbit? convinced Los Angeles that a General Motors-led conspiracy had taken away its streeetcars:

Los Angeles isn’t a cartoon, but it is a main character in the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The movie will be preserved this year in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress along with 24 other important and influential films. On the surface, it’s a bright, noir comedy about cartoon actor Roger Rabbit who’s wanted for murder. But there’s an important plot point that has a basis in history: Roger is framed as an elaborate scheme by villain Judge Doom to demolish L.A.’s mass transit trolley system known as the Red Cars.

In their place, Doom plans to profit on the new project being developed by the city: freeways. “Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena!” he monologues in the film’s climax. “Smooth, straight, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.” In real life, the Red Car system did fall by the wayside as automobiles took over the roads. Some say there was even a conspiracy at work to make it happen, just like in “Roger Rabbit” (but without the cartoons). What was fact and fiction about mass transit in the movie?

The Red Car network had veins that connected far-flung stretches of Southern California – Santa Monica to San Bernardino, Newport Beach to Van Nuys, Pasadena to Long Beach and more. Between it and the more local Yellow Car system, riders could ride on the rails on one of these streetcars to almost anywhere they wanted to. “It was the most extensive urban rail transit system in America, if not the world,” says historian Colin Marshall. “It’s farther than even the most ambitious Metro plans you see today of what’s going to happen in, like, 2050 or 2060 with the current wave of construction.”

You can hear the whole segment here. See also my Guardian article on the origins of the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.”

Korea Blog: Blade Runner 2049 and Los Angeles’ Korean Future

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“LOS ANGELES NOVEMBER, 2019.” So, with that stark title card, begins the film that presented the most fully realized vision of the city’s future in cinema history to that point — and maybe still to this day. It also fixed its setting in the Western imagination as the go-to image of urban dystopia, though when Blade Runner premiered almost three and a half decades ago, that date must have felt comfortably distant. Now, a week before the year 2017 begins, Los Angeles may have got on track to become a densely built metropolis with high-rise-lined streets filled night and day with activity (and not just of the vehicular kind) later than Ridley Scott and company imagined, but the transformation looks well underway nevertheless.

Before its completion, however, it looks as if Hollywood will treat us to a new Los Angeles of the future with the sequel Blade Runner 2049, whose teaser hit the internet just last week. Speculation about a second Blade Runner movie has gone on for years and years, at least since the first’s recovery from its dismal initial release with improved director’s cuts and breathless critical re-evaluations. We know so far that the sequel will, like the original, take place in Los Angeles and feature Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, the ex-LAPD artificial human-hunting (and possibly artificial human-being) Blade Runner of the title. Set 30 years after the events of Blade Runner, it will also introduce such new characters as its comparatively young protagonist, another Blade Runner called Officer K and played by Ryan Gosling (veteran of such impressive, and impressively dissimilar, recent Los Angeles movies as Drive and La La Land).

Blade Runner, dating as it does from an era of American fear and trembling over the skyrocketing value of the yen, posits a thoroughly Japanified Los Angeles: neon signs in untranslated kanji, ramen stands on the sidewalks, and most iconic of all, product-endorsing video geisha towering hundreds of feet in the air. That was, in some sense, the movie’s least fanciful element, given the number of businesses, properties, and towers in Los Angeles (downtown as well as over in Century City, that onetime downtown of the future) either built or purchased by Japanese money. Nobody could then have foreseen that Japan’s economy would stall out in the 1990s, taking whatever plans it may have had to render America its economic colony right off the table.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Everything I’ve written about Wes Anderson for Open Culture

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Somehow, Christmas no longer feels like Christmas without Wes Anderson movies. Since he doesn’t have a feature out this year, we’ve held an Anderson marathon at home instead, and to go along with it I’ve compiled this list of all the Andersonian posts I’ve written for Open Culture, up to and including one on his new Christmas short:

Other Open Culture writers have done a fair bit of Anderson-posting as well:

See also all my Open Culture posts on Haruki Murakami, and my twenty favorites overall.

Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: Ikseon-dong Hanok Village

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Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of Seoul’s urban spaces. This time we’re joined by German-Korean architect Daniel Tändler of Urban Detail Seoul for a walk through Ikseon-dong Hanok Village, a 1930s-era housing development near downtown that has in recent years seen an influx of restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, and studios putting its traditional Korean residential architecture to whole new uses.

Stay tuned for further explorations of Seoul’s architecture, infrastructure, and other parts of the built environment. You can hear our previous segments here.