Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Visiting Base

This weekend, I got a chance to visit the American military base in Yongsan, Seoul. In order to get on base, you must be escorted by someone who works there, and luckily my friend/coworker Andrew's parents are employees and were nice enough to escort a few of us on base for the day. The first step in entering is to stop at a small office outside the gate where each visitor must present two forms of ID, and the escort must have their fingerprint scanned to verify their identity. Then each visitor gets a temporary card to carry around to show who they are. After visiting the office, you pretty much just drive onto base.

There isn't a lot to do on a military base if you're not an employee. We visited the food court, which has the only known (to us) Taco Bell in Seoul. However, even restaurants such as Burger King which are common in Korea offer the traditional American menu instead of the Korean-ized version. There are places to shop on base, but only employees are allowed to buy things. I did manage to obtain a bag of cheese-flavored Cheetos, which are basically nonexistant in Korea and are therefore quite the delicacy to me these days. One of the most interesting things about the base is that it operates predominantly on American currency. It really is like a small piece of America transplanted to another continent.

There are a lot of families living on base, many with fairly young children. Although the base is an American one, there are also Koreans who work there. Many are service industry workers but some are members of the American army. For those of you who didn't know, Korean men are required to serve in the army for just under 2 years. However, some of the men (generally the wealthier ones) are allowed to operate as part of the American army during their service time. These soldiers are referred to as KATUSAs, which stands for Korean Augmentation To the United States Army. This is a highly favorable position to have because the US army is considered to be much less strict than the Korean army.

Overall, the trip to base was rather uneventful. As an outsider, there weren't many places we were allowed to go. Therefore, it didn't really feel like being in a military establishment at all, minus the rather drab decor on some of the buildings. The base is self-sufficient, with its own schools, athletic facilities, and grocery store, so it mostly felt like visiting a small town, albeit a town with rather high security and a youth-skewed population.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

K-pop Artist of the Week: Brown Eyed Girls

My arrival in Korea coincided with the emergence of a new K-pop phenomenon: the release of the song "Abracadabra" by the Brown Eyed Girls. This song has been a ubiquitous part of my experience here. In fact, as I sat down and began to type this blog entry, the restaurant across the street began playing the very song. Although there is another fairly popular single from the same album as "Abracadabra," it and no other song have been as widely heard by yours truly in Seoul as this one. It has the exact components that make any song popular: an easy to remember tune, a distinctive but easy to copy dance move, and a fairly scandalous music video. In fact, the song's trademark dance move is one of the most commonly seen moves. I've witnessed everyone from male waiters in bars to one of my 12 year old students doing it.

About the group themselves, I know little to nothing. It would probably be more accurate for me to title this entry "K-pop Song of the Week," but that would be inconsistent with the rest of my entries so here we are.

Check out Brown Eyed Girls' video for "Abracadabra" here. Or check out the less-offensive "stage version" here, released due to the controversy following the original.