Singing and dancing in Seoul

I'm not saying that I believe Yoon Chang-jung, the spokesperson for the Korean government who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment during the trip to the USA. As I wrote a few years ago, after I had returned to Korea:

Originally posted: August 3, 2009

It isn't just groping on the subways

I've been in Korea for a full month. In that time I would guess that I have had my butt grabbed three or four times (by men), a (drunk) female friend put her hand in my back pocket, had my head fondled at least three times, and had a (drunk stranger-turned-friend) beg that I allow him to kiss me on the top of my bald head when we were out singing.

And I'm not even referring to the nurse who gave me a shot the other day...

I think the head-kisser said he was 27 or 28. His English wasn't that great and I couldn't comprehend when he was trying to explain in Korean that he wanted to kiss me on my head. I'm sure that such language isn't in any of the Korean language study books.

I read in today's Korea Times that groping on the subways has increased.

It has also increased wherever I happen to be in Korea. Sometimes I am amazed at the skinship level of Koreans once you get to know them. As is often pointed out, Koreans will bump into one another without anyone ever apologizing. It isn't just in subways and on the street. Koreans I've encountered are very physical people when they are out drinking and having fun.

When I mentioned to some friends that I was going to Korea for a while they warned that I might finally find people who like to sing even more than I do. And, some warned that I would probably get tired of singing in Korea after a short time.


After almost a month...I am still the last man standing whenever I go out to sing.

Whereas the singing rooms are my first destination, it seems that going singing is the third or fourth stop during the night for the Koreans I have gone out with.

Stop 1: eat (and drink)
Stop 2: drink
Stop 3: drink some more (optional step)
Stop 4: Sing
Stop 5: Eat and drink more
Stop 6: Drink more

Today's Korea Times has a piece: 'Korean Karaoke Is Addictive'

In my case, I have always enjoyed singing despite lacking a good singing voice. I have gotten better by avoiding songs that require real talent.

* * *

Stranger: A friend you haven't met yet

I go out singing with three different groups of people:

1) co-workers
2) friends
3) strangers

After dancing swing Saturday night to warm up for my first official lesson, I met some strangers who were out having fun. I was watching as a young lady in high heels and a mini-skirt was kicking a soccer ball outside a video arcade. She was really into it, demanding that her friends give it a try. A minute later, two people in her group approached me to ask where I was from. The young lady in heels was then demanding that I also kick the soccer ball. I was wearing sandals which I had used as an excuse a few days before when I was out with co-workers. But what excuse could work with a woman who was kicking the damn ball in high heels?

I ended spending the next six hours eating, drinking, and singing with those five folks. They said there were going to go drinking next, but I was able to maneuver them to sing before that.

I have a good memory when it comes to numbers so I was plugging in my songs while they were still looking through the book. I sang in Korean and English, absolutely amazing them. One of them finally asked if I might have a Korean ancestor.

After singing we did go to drink. Then it was back to the arcade. Among other games, they wanted to play basketball against me. It was almost a scene out of the movie Soul Man as they battled over which team would get me.

Unlike the character in Soul Man, I'm actually good at hoops. I whipped them all (I've taken all of my opponents more seriously ever since a female friend from Taiwan beat me). But then, I hadn't drunk as much as they had so you should always put your money on me when I'm playing against drunk Koreans.

* * *

Black Don't Crack

I've heard many Americans complain about Koreans asking them the basic Wh-questions. Where are you from? How long have you been in Korea? Some will even apologize right after asking.

I take it in stride. In America, I would answer, "I'm alive!" Now that I'm understanding Korea and Koreans a little better I can see just how important it is for Koreans to know exactly how old everyone is.

Once Koreans have determined who is older than they know which form of speech to use, if they should use formal or informal language. The last couple of days I've been out with strangers...it seemed that they could not relax until I admitted my age. One young lady even said she felt frustrated not knowing my age.

Last night I attended the first of eight swing dance lessons. The other participants spent a few minutes revealing their ages, discussing who did and did not look their ages. Then, after that, they all began to focus on me.

I tell people that I look really young for a man of 54. I tell people I'm older so I can speak with the informal patterns to most people I meet.

* * *

Speaking of my head...

A couple of years ago I was a questioner at a panel about education in D.C. I went after one of the speakers. He later wrote about it, saying, "It was not the most hostile audience I have ever faced, even though you could almost see the heat rising from the bald head of Cato's Casey Lartigue as he railed at me during Q & A (even Brennan asked Lartigue if there was a question anywhere in his comments)."

Of course, those who enjoyed my comments discussed the way I took it to Bracey and wouldn't let him worm his way out of it.

My head has been discussed at policy events and was even part of an intro from a moderator a few years ago.

As much attention as my head got in America at public policy discussions that doesn't begin to compare to the attention it has received in Korea.

The women in the office are always commenting on it. Some days it looks more beautiful than other days. Apparently the shape is nice. They believe that they can identify my character and personality from looking at it. I've had people ask if they can touch my head. And, as I mentioned above, a Korean man demanded that I allow him to kiss it.

* * *

Class of '23

As I also mentioned above I joined a swing class. I sometimes make things difficult on myself. A swing class...in Korean?

Thankfully, the instructor uses a lot of English commands. I can usually follow some of the Korean because he is also giving commands.

Mostly, I follow body language. But I still must pay attention. At one point, in trying to make a joke, he was saying not to do a certain move. Just paying attention to the body language I did the move he was saying not to do.

As we did the "partna change-e," every woman was gracious. Most of them were also beginners.

After dancing we then went out to drink and eat. I was hoping to also sing but it was already kind of late. As dynamic and active as Seoul is, the subway system shuts down at midnight.

So on most night the options are:
a) wrap up before midnight
b) take a taxi home after midnight
c) stay out until 5:30 a.m. when the subway resumes.

It seems that many nights that people opt to wait for the 5:30 restart.

I'll have to get them to sing a different day, perhaps tomorrow night when we will have dinner for more bonding.

One of my fellow dancers told me that I'm a member of the class of 23. I think it means that we are starting the dance class during the 23rd month that the dance center has been open. Whereas Americans are a member of a class when we finish something, Koreans seem to count from the date they start.

An American college graduate who finish his studies in 2008 would say he was a member of the class of 2008. On the other hand, a Korean person who refers to the class of 2008 would mean that he started that year.

So I'm a member of the 23 "dong gi" 동기.

* * *

Korean phrase of the day

다행이에요. Which means "good luck" or "good fortune." Someone mentioned that to me as we discussed the class and I how I ended up in it.

* * *

Live food

A few days ago I ate 멍게. I'm not exactly sure what type of fish it is. I was out with some colleagues. I'm not really into raw fish. I love my food to go from the grill straight to my mouth. Even when I'm at McDonald's I will wait for them to cook the French Fries right then.

When it comes to meat I like a little time to elapse between the time the animal was alive and the time it gets to my plate.

On the other hand, there are many places in Korea where you can pick your future food out of the tank and have it on your plate within two minutes (which is how long it takes them to cut up the live food, get it on the plate, and to you). In some cases, some like to eat live eel or squid that is live when it gets to your table and is sliced up alive right in front of you.

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