Returning to Finland, post-exchange stress, and future stories

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I returned to Finland in early August, and plunged right back into school. From tutoring freshmen to moving house and focusing on my grad thesis, I’ve been submerged in work, and blogging – here and social media alike – has become something I can hardly think about.

So, where’d a full year go?

I like to pretend I didn’t have a culture shock coming back, and I even felt glad to be back, but the more distant my exchange year grows the harder it feels to be here and not there. Finland is currently in the midst of roaring currents with the European refugee crisis, domestic politics being an utter mess, and education being the first thing they’re cutting funds from, meaning my university is kind of holding on for dear life trying to come through in one piece. I spent a year in a vacuum without having to think about any of this, so it feels like I’d been punched in the face. On top of that I feel kind of like I was the foreigner: not only do I make social faux passes all the time and behave a little strange in public places (what do you mean Europeans don’t hand cash and cards with two hands or at least with one hand on top of the money-offering arm?), I also feel like I didn’t really belong here anymore. I’ve seen and lived in a place I felt was homely and welcoming. Here, people shun away from strangers just as much, but I don’t feel like I have very much left here for me.

Of course going anywhere on exchange is like a bubble where you’re relatively safe from danger and chaos, you’re under the protection of some school, family or organisation; and you don’t have to worry about things like your future, your economical stability, housing, and the like. It’s like a slightly more hands-down, long trip somewhere, and events and fun stuff is being shoved in your face. There’s no commitment. There’s only the slightest trace of having to engage. But I really felt like I needed to be there, and coming back to Finland feels just as temporary, like I never planned to stay long, anyway.

So, I’m going to graduate, and join the brain-leak as they say, and try flee this ship that’s going down very fast. (Domestic politics, like I said, is an utter mess and I’d rather not see where this overtly right-wing government gets us.)

Once my schedule clears up a bit I want to upload more photos. I did a trip to Busan and Gyeongju during my last few weeks, and took plenty of photos I want to share. But that’ll have to wait until I have time from my two jobs, thesis, and seminar paper. I feel like this isn’t exactly what I needed right now, but if it means I’ll be done with (this) school, then that’s something to work hard for.

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Summer getaways

Koreans generally say it’s still spring, but to me it’s felt like summer for weeks.

Today actually marks the first day of my summer holiday, and the end of my school year here. My exchange is almost done with – I have to hand in a paper next week, but that’s all. It feels surreal and weird. I have a lot to blog about regarding the spring semester, and I’m arranging festival photos to put up later. Right now, I’m just sort of confused over how fast a year passed by and how soon I have to start organising my stuff (and my brain) for returning to Finland.

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The daily average temperature is now way past 20 degrees, and it’s only getting hotter – and more humid. I’m not mentally prepared to go back to +15 degrees when the nighttime temperatures are almost +25C. Every day when I pass through campus, there’s people sitting on the grassy plot by the main gate eating or studying for their finals, or drinking and having a good time. (It is completely okay to be drinking soju at noon on campus.)

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Continue reading Summer getaways

MERS

A heads-up if you’re planning a trip to Korea just now: stay healthy. Korea is currently experiencing a large-scale outbreak of the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS for short. This corona virus is a relative of SARS, and causes respiratory issues, and can lead to death.

Good news: if you’re under about 50-60 years in age and have no previous history of kidney, heart or lung disease or other chronic illnesses you should be okay if you just take care of your hand hygiene and don’t let people cough in your face.

What does this mean in a city the size of a small country, like Seoul?

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A rare treat: half-face selca (or selfie; Koreans use the word SELf CAmera.)

 

As weird as it may feel, Koreans (like the Chinese and Japanese) wear face masks at any given time whenever they are sick or there’s a higher chance of catching the flu. It’s a really typical sight, and now with the outbreak, people are recommended to wear them. Some places (such as TV station MBC) have even banned customers from entering unless they are wearing one. There’s plenty of types, styles, colours, and so on, but the basic idea is obvious: to keep the germs off your lungs.

As a bonus, people will think you’re Korean, and you’ll get nice things that usually don’t get handed to you like flyers and adverts on the streets, and people might not stare at you as much as you’d imagine because you blend in.

Another important thing is to keep washing your hands. Get some nice scented hand sanitiser gels from cosmetics stores like Nature Republic. Practice the holy art of not holding on to things in the subway or the escalator (at your own risk – may require practice and endanger your safety!) and avoid sick people.

Currently over a thousand people suspected to have been in contact with the 41 confirmed MERS patients are in quarantine at home or medical facilities. Two deaths have been confirmed to be linked to MERS. However, both patients were elderly, and at least one had history of kidney disease. So far, the media and reports state, the disease has not spread outside the community of those who were either in direct contact with either the patient zero or “the 16th patient”, who seems to have been directly infected by the first (these two are suspected to have spread the disease as they visited multiple medical faculties before being isolated). There are no confirmed cases of anyone having caught MERS at random – all the suspected cases are family, patients, and medical staff who met the patient zero and the other patient at hospitals and clinics.

As with a lot of things, the public appears rather unconcerned (whilst wearing masks), but the Korean government has received a lot of backslash for their sloppy handling of the disease. Incubation period for MERS is anything between 2 and 14 days (typically 5-6), but they only put up a special task force after the incubation period for the first people infected by the confirmed patient zero was over. Apparently, WHO has sent some help, but this is the extent I’m familiar with.

The more or less morbidly humorous people have also taken it to themselves to put up a twitter account for a Camel – yes, a camel, because apparently MERS spread from bats to camels to humans.

So, stay healthy, wash your hands a lot, and also remember to frequently cleanse the stuff you often touch with dirty hands – like your smartphone and door handles around the house.

Happy last official week of the semester (next week) and the impending doom that is finals week (the week after the next)! Eugh.

Game of Fandoms, part 2

This series covers the reality of the life of a k-pop fan attending TV shows, often at the expense of everything else.

See part 1 here.


Part 2: Hooked

Having attended The Show on February 10th, I was immediately thinking about the next time. At this point in any conversation I still wanted to underline the fact that to me, the music mattered more than the singers: I buy the CDs for the contents, not for the pictures. (Korean physical CDs are not just a disk in plastic covers. The packaging is always special, be it shaped like a book, a fancy old-fashioned tin box, or a hard cover that opens into multiple directions; and they come with twenty-plus page photo books and lyric booklets, collectible photo cards, and so on and so forth. But never mind that, I want to play the thing on the stereos at home.)

Fans waiting outside the SBS studio for Inkigayo.
Fans waiting outside the SBS studio for Inkigayo.

But the fact that getting in had been so easy, and not really time consuming, and the fact that I’d made friends had me excited. I kept thinking, “I have time, I’m not even doing anything important. I don’t need to skip school, and it’ll be a fun thing that’ll get me out of bed and will allow me to explore new places around the city, too.” Besides, if I ever wanted to work in media, this was an easy way to see how TV stations work when it comes to recording the various music shows. I had a million reasons to go home to check the official cafe again and again.

Continue reading Game of Fandoms, part 2

Game of Fandoms, part 1

The dream of a k-pop fan: seeing idols in person, on or off stage. Cheering and supporting them on shows while enjoying flashing lights and booming music. Yet the reality is hardly star studded for a fan, just like it isn’t all about lime light to the celebrities.

K-pop, usually meaning the contemporary pop music of South Korea (like J-pop means Japanese pop, and C-pop or Mandopop Chinese or specifically Mandarin Chinese pop) has become an increasingly global phenomenon within the past ten years or so, and has a much longer history in its home country. To many, K-pop culminates in PSY’s hit song Gangnam Style; and to maybe just as many, the dedicated K-pop fangirls and boys come off incomprehensible and a bit weird, just like all those other kids with odd hobbies that have something to do with Pokemon and what have you. K-pop itself is part of a much larger agenda, namely the Hallyu (한류) or “Korean Wave”, which includes multiple aspects of popular culture, arts, entertainment, and so on and so forth. Books have been published on the phenomenon: Pop Goes Korea and K-Pop Now are only a few examples. Some liken Hallyu with the sudden, impactful effect Japanese animation, comics and music had during the early 2000s; Korea, on the other hand, thrives to support Hallyu as it is one massive tourist magnet.

And that’s exactly what leads to why I’m writing this series.


(A Teens React video on EXO’s brand new comeback song, Call Me Baby.)

Walking on the streets of Seoul, it’s impossible to tell just how many young adults really come to Korea because they like K-pop, how many come here and then start liking it, and how many travel or move to Korea for other reasons. Koreans are quick to ask about whether you like K-pop; it’s often one of the first questions in a conversation with young adults. However, the number of foreigners in Korea who like k-pop becomes very obvious “on the field” – that is, music shows, fan meetings or meet-and-greets, and stadium concerts. A few years earlier, being a Westerner at a TV station would gather surprised looks and even get you in easier; now, people either ignore you or ask you if you know Korean and understand the announcements.

For the past few months, my weekly planner has slowly become full of bands’ and TV stations’ schedules. While my previous entries on the topic of being a K-pop fan have been sort of vague on the reality of it, I decided to write a series of posts to describe the glory and gore of what it is like to visit TV stations to see bands. You’ll find more or less detailed guides on music shows elsewhere.

This series covers several months of following two groups I’ve written about before: record breaker and one of Korea’s most spoken of group, EXO, and much smaller and slightly better known in Japan, MYNAME. I’ve decided to arrange the posts chronologically and thus they will follow my experiences from the beginning of February. You’ll find how my thoughts about fan culture in Korea and being an active fan changed since.


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SBS Prism Tower entrance

Part 1: Oppa is coming to town

It’s the first weekend of February. The weather isn’t very good, but it’s definitely getting warmer. I’m sitting at home watching TV, having come back from a cafe. It’s mid winter holiday, and I’ve worked on my thesis for the day, when I get the urge to check if a group I’ve listened to for years has announced any activities.

MYNAME is a five-member group who debuted in 2011 with the song MESSAGE. They’re managed by H2 Media, and as soon as they debuted in Korea, they also started promoting in Japan, something that was still kind of popular but slowly getting a little out of fashion in the k-pop scene at the time. I had entered university that autumn, and I really liked their music; but with their Japanese activities I didn’t pay too much attention to them. Besides, I was in Finland, and k-pop wasn’t that big a thing, so the chances of seeing them live were not huge. (It’s very different now: k-pop has become a thing in Finland.)


On top of this, in 2011, music shows didn’t really make me feel any kind of urgent interest or even curiosity. Even today, I don’t watch them often; and when I first came to Korea I wasn’t familiar with the way they’d recruit audience. In 2013, when MYNAME made a comeback with their relatively popular song Baby I’m Sorry, I was in Korea but did not really know how or where to see shows, and my few attempts didn’t really familiarise me with the practice either. I looked up a guide, but I didn’t know anything about joining fan clubs or similar, so I basically just waited outside the stations and only talked with the few foreigners I saw, not caring about whether I’d get in or not or whether I would see a group I recognised. After my two show experiences in 2013, I had the idea it was kind of fun and a nice experience, and that I’d try again sometime; but it wasn’t really a vow or a pledge of loyalty, or even a decision. Baby I’m Sorry was playing in shopping malls but I didn’t even think about TV shows again.

Fast-forward back to February 2015. I’m sitting in my room and open Google, typing in the best keywords I can imagine: MYNAME 2015 schedule.

Continue reading Game of Fandoms, part 1

K-pop galore

This is a topic that keeps popping up in Korea, and one I wrote about earlier. However, it’s very timely right about now as spring means plenty of K-pop comebacks and new CD releases; plus with the good weather, going to music shows isn’t as terrible as in mid-winter. I wrote about going to shows before, and also wrote something on how to get to K-pop music show recordings on SeoulSync.

This isn’t a blog about that, though – for a guide on shows and how to get in, check out the link. The rest of this post is about fan culture, fandoms, and a little compilation of what I’ve dubbed my most K-pop year insofar.

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Continue reading K-pop galore

Cake, and more cake

I’m the type who relieves stress by hanging out in the kitchen. (My previous flatmate can confirm: she’d sometimes find me sitting on the kitchen floor for no apparent reason.) I love baking, and I love cooking for friends and guests.

Korea is a little tricky for those of us who enjoy a good home-made cheesecake or macaroni casserole: ovens are a rarity. They’re present in high-rise apartments, apparently, but for a college student they’re out of reach.

This doesn’t rule out cake, though, just the part where you spend time preparing it. Korea is littered with cafe-bakeries, bread-makers, cake-makers, and so on and so forth, and pretty much every cafe offers at least one kind of cake or more. For the real good stuff, you might have to go around until you find the best – or you could just head over to one of these places.

Continue reading Cake, and more cake

Spring flowers

One of those things everyone knows about, say, Japan, is the fantastic cherry blossoms that bloom every spring and attract picnicking crowds from near and far. Korea’s cherry blossoms are just as magnificent and beautiful; the end of March officially marks the beginning of spring, and this year, flowers are blooming as if to commemorate the change of seasons. Cherries are abloom, as are multiple other trees and bushes.

If you’re planning a springtime trip to Korea, make sure to check sites such as the Korea Tourism facebook for the annual schedule for blooming flowers! Here’s my obligatory flower post. ;)

Some photos are from the KU campus, and some from the National Museum of Korea.

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Do not go to Korea University for grad studies

I wish I could make my blogging comeback with a little lighter and happier topic, but this is something that has made my life much harder for a good while now, and I feel I need to spread the word.

Disclaimer: this post stems from my recent experiences at Korea University (KU), and other people might have different experiences and stories to tell. However, I know I’m not the only one with such experiences.

So, amongst my blog posts, you might have read that I was told I could attend graduate courses during my exchange. This is what followed.

Continue reading Do not go to Korea University for grad studies

Happy New Years!

It’s Lunar New Years, and the streets of Seoul are empty. Stores are closed. Only a few restaurants in my neighborhood are open. Lunar (also known as Chinese) New Year is clearly one of the biggest and most important celebrations in Korea. Multiple regular TV shows are not aired during the holiday; people leave the city to see their families or go abroad, and so on. While the December-to-January New Years is celebrated with fireworks and seeing the sunrise, it definitely doesn’t beat the scale of the Lunar New Years.

There’s many cultural activities you can participate in, though, so if you’re ever stuck in the city with nothing to do, check tourism sites for ideas.

As Koreans say, 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (lit. may you receive lots of luck during the new year)! It’s officially the beginning of the year of the Sheep now.

Also: I’m still sick. It’s been about a month. Judging by my symptoms I might have swine flu, but since it’s home-treatable I’m just resting at home. Tomorrow I’m officially moving to my new place, and then someone special is coming to spend my last holiday week with me! ♡

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Weather on Sunday was awesome by the way! It’s really spring in Korea – apparently the random snow is part of spring.

the fine line between dreams and reality