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Korea Blog: Korea’s New Comfort-Woman Comedy “I Can Speak”

Over the past few months, a publicity blitz of the caliber usually reserved for Hollywood superhero spectacles has urged Koreans to see a I Can Speak (아이 캔 스피크), a movie about a straight-laced young civil servant who reluctantly gives English lessons to an old battleaxe. Or at least that’s how it looked at first: as more detailed press and advertisements came out, people started to sense something more complicated than the Korean Harold and Maude (if that) they might have expected. Soon word spread that it actually deals with one of the most dangerously controversial issues in the country today: the plight of the “comfort women,” the young girls forced into prostitution for the Japanese military during the Second World War.

Even typing that last sentence, especially the word “forced,” feels as if it might set off an international incident or two. On my first trip to Seoul I had several appointments that brought me the the vicinity of the city’s Japanese embassy, at that time a grim, prisonlike building, demolished in recent years after many denied requests for permission to do so. I knew a now-iconic bronze comfort woman statue (officially called the “Statue of Peace”) had been installed near it, but I somehow hadn’t imagined it sitting right across the street, its placid, accusatory stare pointing straight ahead. The Japanese government has requested the statue’s removal time and again, to no avail, since it appeared in 2011. Young volunteers watch over it 24 hours a day, and protests, often involving the surviving and now elderly comfort women themselves, have happened in front of the embassy each and every Wednesday for more than 25 years.

Other comfort woman monuments have appeared elsewhere in the world, including a lawsuit-drawing State of Peace clone in Glendale’s Central Park, and just this past summer five of them started riding Seoul city buses. While all this might make an observer unfamiliar with east Asian affairs wonder if the Imperial Japanese Army and its human trafficking operation remains a going concern, current Korean objections specifically target the official Japanese attitude toward those wartime exploits, even as the exploits themselves slip out of living memory. Japan, in this view, captured and enslaved somewhere between 20,000 and 400,000 unwilling young girls from not just Korea but China, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and other territories besides, yet has consistently refused to properly apologize for or even fully acknowledge its crimes.

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

This week’s city reading: Los Angeles’ varied images, the return of the city-state, Amazon’s search for a city with decent transit

Will the Real Los Angeles Please Stand Up? (Mia Lehrer, Foreground) “The fact that our past Governor filmed Terminator scenes in the LA River, or that The Italian Job shows Mini Coopers racing down the concrete river bed, signaling to other cities that you can concrete over your river and have fun.”

A New Approach to Designing Smart Cities (David Galbraith, Design Matters) “One day, I’d like to design a truly modern, functional city with the character of a medieval hill town. Rather than a blueprint, I’d like to design a series of recipes for how to create it, from the community to individual human level, from street plans to door handles. This outlines how and why that approach could work, compared to how cities are designed today.”

Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt Is a Transit Reckoning (Laura Bliss, Citylab) “The emphasis on transit seems to be creating, in particular, something of a come-to-Jesus moment for cities where high-level service has long been an afterthought. Cities with legacy subway systems, such as Boston and Washington, D.C., have risen to the top of more than one ranking; so has Denver, with its relatively forgiving traffic and expanded rail investments. In weeks of speculation and showdowns, a lack of transit connectivity has been one of the the great presumed disqualifiers for other towns.”

How Seoul Is Reinventing Itself as a Techno-Utopia (Susan Crawford, Wired) “I got an advance look at what might turn out to be a powerful tool in his reelection: a visually beautiful data dashboard—its formal name is “The Digital Civic Mayor’s Office”—that is tied to the broad themes the mayor identified in 2014: How safe is the city, how welcoming is it to the very old and the young, how green is it, how open are its operations?”

Return of the City-State (Jamie Bartlett, Aeon) “As today’s centres of urban global capitalism, major cities are more similar to each other than the provinces of their own nation-states. They are all hubs of finance, tech innovation, culture, and characterised by high levels of diversity and inward migration. While the UK voted to leave the EU 52/48, London voted to remain 60/40. London, as is often remarked by visitors, is nothing like the rest of the country. The same can certainly be said of the US east- and west-coast behemoths.”

The Happy City and Our $20 Trillion Opportunity (Mr. Money Mustache) “The average American gets the most expensive car he can afford, and drives it as much as he can – for virtually 100% of trips out of the house. And yet he has a net worth of nearly zero, and subpar physical health, for most of his life. The average American city builds the largest roads and parking lots it can possibly fund, maximizing the amount of available space for vehicles, in a noble attempt to reduce traffic and serve its citizens. But the result is that cities become nothing but wide, well-engineered, fast, deadly expanses of concrete.”

NPR Music: BTS breaks onto the Billboard charts

Making it to the top of the Korean pop music charts demands no small amount of blood, tears, and sweat — and even more to break beyond it. Few current groups know it as well as the boys of BTS, the young septet who this week became the highest-ranked K-pop act ever on the Billboard 200 chart, as well as only one to rise into its top ten and to appear on both the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. Their success marks one more step in a long campaign in the Korean pop music industry, and the Korean entertainment industry as a whole, to cultivate a robust fan base as far beyond the borders of South Korea as possible. But how far, K-pop observers have long wondered, can this unabashedly glossy, visually oriented, and aggressively young music really go?

Though 21st-century Korea’s intensively trained (and even more intensively groomed) squadrons of boy bands and girl groups may seem indistinguishable, BTS has had a way of standing out since they made their debut in the summer of 2013. Like every major pop act, they came vetted by the country’s talent oligarchy, specifically as a product of Big Hit Entertainment, an artist management company founded by Bang Si-hyuk, former songwriting partner of top star-making record executive Park Jin-young (known to anyone with an eye on Korean pop culture simply as “JYP”). Before they turned up to Big Hit’s auditions, two of their members were art-school students and two were underground rappers; some point to the group’s own active participation in the writing and production of their songs, heretofore an unusual practice in the highly specialized world of K-pop, as one reason for their rapid and outsized success.

Certainly no other boy band of any nationality has put out a hit single inspired by the work of Nobel Prize-winning German novelist Hermann Hesse, as BTS’ members described last year’s “Blood Sweat & Tears.” Its elaborate music video even features a passage from Hesse’s Demian, a novel near-universally known in South Korea and beloved by several generations of its people. The words come recited by member Kim Nam-joon, better known as “Rap Monster,” who has emerged as the group’s breakout star as well as something of a self-styled intellectual, having placed high on IQ tests and South Korea’s university entrance exams — a high mark of distinction in a ranking-obsessed society — becoming fluent in English, and continuing, on his own initiative, the Japanese-language studies all the BTS members received as trainees.

Read the whole thing at NPR Music.

This week’s city reading: the future of Detroit, a farewell to London, and the failings of transit in the San Francisco Bay Area

Detroit Open City (Aaron Robertson, Los Angeles Review of Books) “The species of loneliness one feels in New York is not the same in Detroit. There is an overwhelming awareness that in a city this large, things should be louder. ‘Detroit is the biggest small town in America,’ I once heard someone say. The slogan rings true. It is a city in which people talk more about lonely places than lonely people. Abandonment is keenly felt not as a conclusive sense of emptiness, but as absence, the peculiar suspicion that something which should be there has been devoured or disappeared.”

Credit Where It’s Due (Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times) “Wong, who died Sept. 1 at 94, often pared down the buildings he worked on to a single memorable gesture. There’s the swooping roofline of the Union 76 gas station in Beverly Hills, among postwar L.A.’s singular landmarks. The peaked silhouette of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The glowing cube at the heart of CBS Television City. Those forms were memorable in part because they matched the spirit of the age in California. They were a visual shorthand for the future.”

Iain Sinclair’s Farewell to London (Iain Sinclair, The Guardian) “There was no longer an obligation to carry a notebook or a camera. Or to endure the madness of being overwhelmed by random voices, mendacious signage, tags and scribbles, snippets of intrusive mobile-phone babble: along with the moral imperative of shaping white noise into a coherent narrative. The rough sleepers, ranters on buses, spice zombies, station beggars I sourced as potential characters were taking their revenge by welcoming me into their survivalist sodality. Did I look like one of them now? Did my skewed, eyes-down trudge transmit a different code, a new set of pheromones?” (See also my interview with Iain Sinclair on Notebook on Cities and Culture.)

Connect the World? The Bay Area Can’t Even Connect Its Trains (Joe Mathews, Public CEO) “We didn’t know how to bridge this transportation gap. My son wasn’t up for a long walk. There is as yet no shuttle from plane to train. The public bus that would take us in the train’s direction didn’t show up on time. Uber wasn’t picking up at the airport. My Lyft app kept crashing. And the four cabbies parked outside the airport all refused to take us, saying they didn’t want to give up their place in line for such a short, cheap trip.”

Collective Dust (Yolanta Siu, Places Journal) “Today, the district’s main street, Dorim-ro, is a stage for revolving storefronts, where trendy restaurants and cafes come and go. Rents have quadrupled in a decade. Many of the new businesses borrow the “otherness” of the factories by using Mullae’s name and industrial aesthetic, but none are affordable to longtime residents. Cultural conflicts are open and pervasive. Most technicians spend their entire lives working six-day weeks, and they find it hard to understand the irregular habits of artists and the creative endeavors that sometimes disrupt factory work.” (See also my segment on Mullae-dong with Yolanta Siu on Koreascape.)

Why Can’t We Get Cities Right? (Paul Krugman, New York Times) “It’s not hard to see what we should be doing. We should have regulation that prevents clear hazards, like exploding chemical plants in the middle of residential neighborhoods, preserves a fair amount of open land, but allows housing construction. In particular, we should encourage construction that takes advantage of the most effective mass transit technology yet devised: the elevator.”

Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: industry and culture grapple in Mullae-dong

Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of one of Seoul’s urban spaces. This time we go just south of the Han River for a nighttime journey — punctuated by cats, coffee, ukulele riffs, tap dancing, and showers of sparks — through Mullae-dong. There an established generation of industrial operations now coexist with a new generation of cultural venues, putting metalworkers and craftsmen right alongside artists and baristas. We’re joined by Yolanta Siu, whose recent piece “Collective Dust” in Places Journal  warns that “the situation in Mullae now calls for artists and factory owners to unite in resistance to speculative capitalism. Otherwise the neighborhood will follow the model of Daehangno, Bukchon, Seochon, Garosu-gil, and Jogno in becoming a generic shopping district,” whose popularity led to rising rents that brought about “not prosperity but hollowness.”

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

Korea Blog: Why K-Pop Is the Same as Classic Rock

Pet Sounds passed the 50th anniversary of its release about half a year after I moved to Korea. That same day, I later learned, also marked the 50th anniversary of Blonde on Blonde; this year brought that of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Despite never having owned any of these iconic albums myself, I know them when I hear them (mostly, these days, at Peter Cat), as, no doubt, do plenty of kids in the West 20 years younger than me. Or at least they know a fair number of their songs, many having developed that familiarity almost inadvertently. Many in their great-grandparents’ generation probably went through a similar process: even if they loathed the then-audacious sounds of the Beach Boys or Bob Dylan or the Beatles, they eventually grew to recognize them, and even, sometimes, to grudgingly appreciate them.

One common reaction to these records’ semicentennials involves lamenting a perceived decline in all the popular music since, a long, slow erosion of craftsmanship and adventurousness perceptible in the comparatively low quality of newer songs’ lyrics, composition, performance, and even recording. Westerners in Korea, given to complaint even in the best of times, must agree and then some, surrounded as they constantly are by the sounds of modern “K-pop,” that synthetic, artificially sweetened, assembly-line-manufactured product of interchangeable (and often indistinguishable) idol singers and the boy bands or girl groups from which they emerge — or at least Westerners in the West might imagine.

When trying to explain the place of K-pop in everyday Korean life, I often talk about gyms. When I work out at the one in my neighborhood in Seoul, I do it to its soundtrack of K-pop, its volume set, typically, a few notches higher than background music in other countries. (Even the gym itself, part of a national chain, has its own K-pop-style theme song, played at 8:00 every evening while its staff of uniformed trainers marches around the weights and through the treadmills greeting every member individually.) When I worked out back in America, no matter when or where, I did to a soundtrack of “classic rock,” an FM radio format that, like the current K-pop playlists in Korea, doesn’t thrill anyone excited with its curatorial genius, but doesn’t draw any complaints either.

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

This week’s city reading: dying alt-weeklies, recanting Richard Florida, and anti-urbanist Margaret Atwood

What Cities Lose When an Alt-Weekly Dies (David Dudley, Citylab) “The thing the Voice and its descendants gave readers was something more important than the occasional scoop: They served as critical conveyors of regional lore and scuttlebutt and intel. Dailies may have told you what was going on; alt-weeklies helped make people locals, a cranky cohort united by common enthusiasms and grievances. The alternative media was the informal archive of the city’s id, a catalog of fandom and contempt that limned the contours of the populace. And this part of their role, as it turns out, is a lot harder to replace in the digital era.” Growing up, I had my choice between Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, and for reasons I still don’t fully understand chose the former without exception.

Why Center City Parking Garages are Disappearing (Inga Saffron, The Philadelphia Inquirer) “For decades, the conventional planning wisdom has been that free-standing garages and surface lots are the urban equivalent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, lifeless zones that squeeze the energy out of cities and make walking less pleasant and safe. Urbanist websites like Streetsblog have made a specialty of mapping the amount of land devoted to parking in America’s downtowns, and the acreage is staggering.”

Helmets May Be Seattle law, but Many Bike-Share Riders Don’t Wear Them (David Gutman, The Seattle Times) “There are virtually no cities, anywhere in the world, that have both a successful bike-share program and a mandatory helmet law.”

Richard Florida Is Sorry (Sam Wetherell, Jacobin) “Though he stops just short of saying it, he all but admits that he was wrong. He argues that the creative classes have grabbed hold of many of the world’s great cities and choked them to death. As a result, the fifty largest metropolitan areas house just 7 percent of the world’s population but generate 40 percent of its growth. These “superstar” cities are becoming gated communities, their vibrancy replaced with deracinated streets full of Airbnbs and empty summer homes.”

How Public Transit Helped the 1932 Olympics Move Around Los Angeles (Robert Petersen, KCET) “During the Opening Ceremonies, hundreds of official cars and the 68 buses carrying nearly 2,000 athletes were able to travel in dedicated lanes, without stopping, through the dense traffic created by the 105,600 spectators going to the stadium. The running time of the buses from Olympic Village to the Colosseum averaged 10-12 minutes. The Olympic Committee happily noted that ‘not a single accident of any kind was reported involving any athlete or official’ and that ‘traffic accidents actually decreased during this period in spite of the increased traffic caused by the Games.'”

The Storeys Margaret Atwood Condemns (Alex Bozikovic, The Globe and Mail) “The 1960s generation of planners, activists and politicians locked down these areas to protect them. Similar regimes are in place in other North American cities, including Vancouver and San Francisco, Calif., – each of which have absurdly high housing prices. That is no coincidence. If you constrain the supply of a commodity, it gets expensive. Yet, this practice continues, because homeowners hold all the political cards.”

From my interview archive: Los Angeles graphic designer and dingbat appreciator Clive Piercy (RIP)

This year, I’m listening again to selections from the archive of long-form interviews I conducted on the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas and podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture between 2007 and 2015.

I started Notebook on Cities and Culture in large part as a way of understanding one city in particular: Los Angeles, to which I’d just moved a few months earlier. It went along with the practices I’d already undertaken, which included wandering around every day with a camera in hand, reading everything I could in the Los Angeles history stacks down on the bottom floor of the Central Library, and making frequent reference to Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Though forty years old at that point, Banham’s book could still point me toward some of the elements of the city that revealed its distinctive nature, Exhibit A being the dingbat.

“Normally a two-storey walk-up apartment-block developed back over the full depth of the site, built of wood and stuccoed over,” the dingbat, made of the same “materials that Rudolph Schindler and others used to build the first modern architecture in Los Angeles,” displays “simple rectangular forms and flush smooth surfaces” at the back. But out front it makes “a commercial pitch and a statement about the culture of individualism,” using a range of styles so novel and questionable Banham has to invent names on the spot: “from Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-Line Moderne, from Cod Cape Cod to Unsupported Jaoul Vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian Gabled and even — in extremity — Modern Architecture.”

I read aloud Banham’s brief but astute analysis of the dingbat, “the true symptom of Los Angeles’ urban id, trying to cope with the unprecedented appearance of residential densities too high to be subsumed within the illusions of homestead living,” to open my interview with Clive Piercy, the man who wrote the book on them. Or rather, he shot the book on them: a prominent graphic designer by day, he created Pretty Vacant: The Los Angeles Dingbat Observed as a work of visual art, a way of letting others see dingbats as he saw them, more than anything else. When the book came to my attention, it was already approaching the tenth anniversary of its publication: a marvelously effective excuse (or “peg,” as they say in the news industry) to invite him on the show.

My research revealed to me that, like Banham, Piercy came to Los Angeles from England, placing him in the grand tradition of Englishmen — Christopher Isherwood, David Hockney, Richard Rayner — who, each in his own way, take to the city as if born for it. He even settled in Santa Monica (his surname, he told me, was pronounced like “the Santa Monica Pier, see?“) , which at times still feels to me like an English colony, and at his design firm’s offices there, in whose pocket garden we recorded our conversation while an assistant served us tea, I felt I was in the presence, perhaps for the first time, of someone truly living their Los Angeles dream, although that dream could, by his own admission, have its nightmarish aspects.

Though it sounded as if Piercy reveled in his large, brightly colored automobiles (such as the Nash Metropolitan, which he mentioned owning in both England and America), he also had to endure a commute to Pasadena to teach at Art Center — a drive that would’ve seemed trivial in the Los Angeles of 1982 in which he arrived, where one would think nothing of “driving thirty miles to dinner.” I asked him quite a lot about that era, since I’d also found out that he created two of the images I’ve long kept in my mind as representative of it: the cover of Read My Lips, the solo album by Fee Waybill from The Tubes, and poster for Michael Mann’s Manhunter. (The latter prompted him to tell a story, before we started recording, about the time he made Mann a set of business cards. The director wanted them in the same shade of blue as his Ferrari, but he insisted that a reference photograph wouldn’t do, demanding instead that Piercy work in the presence of the car itself.)

“It was so exciting to be here in the eighties,” he said, recalling his proficiency with the “pastel colors and ripped paper” aesthetic so popular then, his early “dream job” reworking the look of Santa Monica’s Shangri-La Hotel, and the time he designed a daily newspaper supplement on the 1984 Olympics, perhaps the purest expression of the glorious 1980s Los Angeles aesthetic — which, of course, would end up as a garish, out-of-scale, pseudo-postmodernism used on every cheap street-corner mini-mall. As much as he might have been living out his own Los Angeles dream, Piercy seemed to regard the Los Angeles dream in general as long soured, since at least the days of the O.J. Simpson trial.

The old, optimistic model of Los Angeles — now represented in part by those “sad characters” the dingbats, named for the meaningless, modernity-evoking symbols mounted on their exterior walls, usually alongside names like “Sea Breeze” or “The Capri” — had ceased to function so well, but a new one hadn’t fully replaced it. It still hasn’t, although when Piercy said to me that “in five years’ time you’ll be able to come out here on the train,” he actually wasn’t optimistic enough, or not optimistic about the right things; the Expo Line’s service out to Santa Monica started two years earlier than that. But to a degree, even the most forward-thinking people who come to Los Angeles remain, psychologically, in the Los Angeles they found upon arrival, continuing to perceive the city in accordance with the bygone virtues and flaws to which they first adapted.

I could have talked with Piercy for a long, long time, much more for the hour and change we actually had on that sunny Santa Monica day back in 2013. But I’ve kept thinking back to our conversation ever since, meaning to revisit it; the news of his death yesterday, which I heard from the many tributes his former students posted to Facebook, gave me a reason to do so. I’ve often wished I could see Los Angeles as one of its expatriate Englishmen do, especially if they came in one of the eras that fascinate me, and Piercy’s 1980s-inflected view of Los Angeles will continue to influence my own. He even made sure I’d have the proper reference material, giving me a pristine copy of Pretty Vacant to replace the dilapidated one I’d brought with me. He’d scribbled on its front page before handing it to me, and only later did I have a look at what I thought would be an autograph but turned out to be a drawing, in neon green ink, of a dingbat.

콜린의 한국 이야기: 플레이 볼

내가 일본어를 공부하기 시작했을 때 일본국제교류기금에서 제작한 일본어를 가르치는 동영상 연재를 봤었다. 그것은 <일본어를 배우자>라는 제목이었고 내가 태어났던 1984년에 만들어졌다. 연재의 주인공은 특별한 국적이 없는 서양인인 얀이라는 주인공으로 건축 회사에 일을 하러 일본에 온다. 거기에 살면서 아파트를 빌리고 회식을 하고 라디오를 사고 국내여행을 하는 등 여러 가지의 경험을 하는 장면에 나온다. 가장 재미있는 편들 중에 하나는 얀이 일본 야구 경기를 보러 가는 것이다.

야구는 전 세계에서 미국을 대표하는 스포츠로 잘 알려져 있지만 나는 그러한 미국에서 태어난 미국인임에도 불구하고 원래 야구뿐만 아니라 어떠한 스포츠에도 관심이 없는 편이다. 그러나 나는 지난 몇년 동안 스포츠를 운동 그 자체가 아닌 문화적인 현상으로도 볼 수 있는 방법이 있음을 알게 되었다. 야구를 통해 미국 문화를 이해할 수 있다면 다른 야구를 하는 나라의 문화도 이와같은 방법으로 이해할 수 있다. 한국 문화에 관심이 많은 나는 그것 때문에 오랫동안 한국 야구 경기를 보고 싶었지만 여기에 산지 일년 반이 됨에도 불구하고 한국 야구를 볼 기회가 전혀 생기지 않았다.

나는 미국에 살 때 일본어를 공부하기 시작했고 한국에 살면서도 일본어를 계속 공부하고 있고 최근에 복습으로 <일본어를 배우자>를 다시 봤다. 몇 달 전에 아시아를 여행하는 로스앤젤레스에 사는 친구를 만나러 동경에 갔다. 우연히 그 친구도 여행을 하는 칼리포니아에 사는 그의 또다른 친구를 동경에서 만나기로 해서 우리 셋은 다 같이 일본식 저녁 식사를 했다. 대화하면서 내가 만난 적이 없는 줄 알았던 나의 친구의 친구가 어느 순간 익숙한 사람처럼 느껴지기 시작했다. 알고보니 내가 대학교 다닐 때 그 대학의 교수인 그가 가르쳤던 수업을 들은 적이 있는 것을 깨달았다.

나의 옛 교수님이 동경에 있는 이유는 매년 여름에 연세 대학교에서 수업을 가르치러 한국에 가지만 올해에는 일본에 들르고 싶었기 때문이다. 나는 재미교포인 옛 교수님을 대학교 때에는 “제임스 경진 리”로 알게 되었지만 이번에는 더 친숙한 “짐”으로 부르게 되었다. 우리의 저녁 식사는 성공적이어서 그와 나는 그가 수업들을 끝내면 서울에서 같이 야구 경기를 보러 가기로 했다. 계획한 그 날에 나는 조금 늦게 일하게 되어서 <일본어를 배우자>의 주인공인 얀과 같은 위치에 놓일 수도 있다는 것이 느껴졌다.

야구 경기가 나오는 편에는 얀의 일본 호스트 가족의 아이들은 이미 경기장의 관람석에 앉아서 선수들이 연습하는 것을 보고 있고 이와는 다르게 경기를 보러 갈 것을 약속한 얀은 아직도 사무실에서 타자기로 타이핑을 하고 있다. 마침내 기다림에 지친 호스트 가족의 아들은 공중전화에서 얀에게 통화해서 어디에 있냐고 물어보고 얀은 부장님이 모르게 조용히 곧 퇴근하겠다고 대답한다. 나는 잠실 경기장행 지하철을 타면서 얀처럼 느꼈고 기차가 한강을 건너면서 경기를 볼 것에 신이 나기 시작했다.

짐을 만난 종합운동장 역의 출구와 경기장 밖 공간에서 상상도 못 할 만큼 많은 것을 사 먹을 수 있다는 것에 놀랐다. 미국에서는 경기장 밖에서 소주와 구운 오징어 같은 것들을 살 수 있다 해도 당연히 경기장 안에 가져 갈 수 없지만 한국에서는 어떠한 것도 가지고 들어갈 수 있는 것처럼 보였다. 게다가 경기장 안에서 판매하는 음식도 비교적으로 저렴하다. 내가 어렸을 때 시애틀 매리너즈 경기를 보러 갔을 때 주차 요금뿐만 아니라 핫도그를 포함한 여러 음식과 물건들이 굉장히 비쌌다는 것을 기억한다. 이와는 상반적으로 한국에서는 표와 오징어와 맥주를 사면 가격은 총 20,000원쯤에 달한다.

그 날의 경기는 LG 트윈스 대 롯데 자이언츠였고 우리는 롯데가 특별히 열렬한 팬들이 많다고 들은 적이 있어서 롯데 응원자들의 좌석 구역에 앉았다. 샌프란시스코 자이언츠 야구복과 비슷한 오렌지색과 검은색 옷을 입는 치어리더들이 자주 나와서 공연을 하고 선수가 타석에 들어설 때마다 나오는 특별한 그 선수에 대한 노래를 불렀다. 경기의 중간에 우리는 공기를 넣어 모자처럼 머리에 쓸 수 있는 롯데의 오렌지색 비닐 봉지들을 받았다. 그러나 우리가 아무리 열심히 응원했지만 롯데는 한 점도 득점하지 못하고 졌다. 그때까지 짐과 우리와 같이 경기를 보고 있었던 짐이 초대한 외국인 교수들과 대학원생들 이미 집에 돌아갔지만 나는 맨 끝까지 지켜보고 싶었다.

<일본어를 배우자>에서도 얀과 그의 호스트 가족 아이들은 요코하마 타이요 훼일즈 대 한신 타이거즈인 경기를 맨 끝까지 지켜본다. 나는 일본에 처음 가서 오사카에 머물렀을 때부터 오사카의 팀인 한신 타이거즈에 괸심을 갖고 있다. 이번 달 초 오사카에 다시 갔고 한신 타이거즈 경기를 보러 가서 한국 야구와 비교할 생각이 있었지만 유일한 시간이 되는 밤에는 한신 타이거즈는 오사카가 아니라 동경에서 경기를 하는 것이었다. 그래서 한신 타이거즈의 역사적으로 깊은 코시엔 경기장 대신에 오사카에 있는 토라시라는 한신 타이거즈 응원자 바에 갔다. (토라는 일본어로 호랑이를 뜻하고 호랑이는 물론 영어로 타이거이다.)

토라시에서 경기의 시작부터 끝까지 모든 시간을 보냈다. 텔레비전 생방송으로 경기를 보면서 키린 일본 맥주를 마시고 바텐더와 한신 타이거즈와 오사카 문화에 대해서 얘기했다. 바텐더는 오사카에서 태어난 재일교포이었지만 한국에 온 적이 없고 한국말을 전혀 못 해서 나는 내 서투른 일본어를 사용할 수 밖에 없었다. (그는 한국 문화를 잘 모르지만 적어도 한국의 대표 음식인 “키무치”를 좋아한다고 했다.) 나는 처음 두 시간 동안 바의 유일한 고객이었지만 마지막 세번째 시간이 시작하고 대학교 나이처럼 보이는 여자 두 명이 들어와서 앉았다.

그 때에 한신 타이거즈는 예전부터 라이벌 팀이고 롯데 자이언츠와 샌프란시스코 자이언츠처럼 오렌지색과 검음색을 입는 요미우리 자이언츠에게 지고 있었다. 한신 타이거즈는 한 점도 득점하지 못했지만 우리 넷은 다 같이 계속해서 환호해서 마지막 인닝에서 그들은 마침내 득점했다! 나는 야구에 특별한 관심이 없고 스포츠보다 문화적인 젓에 대해서 생각하는 편이지만 나는 그 순간을 아주 즐겼다. 내년 여름에 한신 타이거즈의 홈구장인 코시엔 경기장에 갈 기회가 생기면 그들이 이기길 바란다.

This week’s city reading: how Angelenos evolve, what “ghost signs” reveal, and the weakness of “best cities” lists

Why the ‘best cities to live in’ list rewards the safe and the clean (Gavin Haynes, The Guardian) “The Economist’s clientele are exactly the people David Goodhart characterised as the ‘Anywheres’ in The Road To Somewhere, his take on the populist revolt that gave us Brexit, Trump and global politics’ present weirdness. Unlike the more geographically immobile ‘Somewheres’, they are highly educated, highly mobile cosmopolitan globalists, of the kind deposited by huge corporations in Delft or Delaware to run a bureau or consult on a project. They want to plug-in-’n’-play.”

The Evolution of an Angeleno (Reed Alvarado, Getting There) “‘I love walking into these stations and imagining what they are going to look like in the future.’ It’s an interesting thought. Will there one day be enough traffic or political will power to justify the in-station concession stands we are used to in other cities? Will there be more digital visuals or art? More entrances and exits like the one that recently opened at 7th and Metro he uses to make his way to work?” (Don’t get me started on the whole “7th and Metro” thing.)

Your City’s ‘Ghost Signs’ Have Stories to Tell (Matthew Kruchak, Citylab) “When the side of a 111-year-old brick building lit up in Winnipeg, Canada, on a recent night in July, a crowd of about 50 people looked up to see a newly vivid message that had been there all along: “Porter & Co., crockery, china, glassware, lamps, silverware, cutlery.” A few moments later, the words faded and a new message appeared: “The Home of Milady Chocolates.” This late-night light show was a seance of sorts, and Craig Winslow was the medium.”

Dongdaemun Postcard: From Stall to Tower, Merchant to Tourist (Sydney Yejin Chun, Korea Exposé) “‘The most difficult part of my job is probably interacting with customers of different ethnicities. It’s really bad, but I find that I’m so much more comfortable with Korean people,’ said Shim at the stall. ‘It’s much easier to strike up a quick conversation and chat with them, which also makes it easier to sell products. But I’m in the process of improving on my interactions with other customers.'”

The Auto Frame: a Vehicle for Transgression? (Nick Kaufmann, Medium) “This ‘automotive frame’ developed throughout early controversies of ‘jay drivers’ vs. ‘jay walkers’ and subsequent push by industry leaders like Charles Hayes to cast blame for collisions away from the vehicle itself, and frame the street as the rightful domain of the car. Hayes ‘warned his colleagues that bad publicity over traffic casualties could soon lead to ‘legislation that will hedge the operation of automobiles with almost unbearable restrictions.’ The solution was to persuade city people that “the streets are made for vehicles to run upon.'”

Why Seattle Builds Apartments, But Vancouver, BC, Builds Condos (Margaret Morales, Sightline Institute) “The short answer is economics. In Vancouver, apartments are saddled with an unfavorable tax code, making condos the more lucrative multi-family housing investment even despite high rental demand. In Seattle’s skyrocketing rental market, one that’s climbed even faster than the condo market in recent years, apartment buildings are much more financially attractive, while condos come with bigger risks and, typically, lower returns.”