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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

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On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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‘Leaving Thailand’ – From Phuket with love and heartaches

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‘Leaving Thailand’ – From Phuket with love and heartaches | The Thaiger

“In his new memoir “Leaving Thailand,” a former journalist, film tech and Phuket resident looks back on his life and loves in the kingdom that continue to haunt and inspire him.”

By Jim Algie 

I’m wary of memoirs set in Thailand in which a sex-starved Western man descends on the country to get caught up in the carnal circus of bars, bargirls, sex tourists, wastrels, pleasure-seekers and those eccentric expats I call “Bangkooks”.

But Steve Rosse quickly differentiates himself from the herd in the first story, “A Woman of Bangkok,” by noting how he stumbled upon the famous novel “about a young Englishman who falls in love with a Thai ‘dancing girl’ in Bangkok circa 1950. She takes all his money, breaks his heart, costs him his job, and finally leaves him to a future of failure and bitterness. But despite its turgid plot, the book is brilliantly written. It is a story full of wit, pathos and plain old human drama, and it’s one of my favorite books in the world.” 

I quote this passage at length not only because it sums up the story arc of so many Thailand books, but also because Rosse brings many of the same qualities, like “wit, pathos and plain old human drama,” which are the lynchpins of Jack Reynolds’ book, to these stories. The effect is a fresh take on a hoary genre that quickly morphs into something much more substantial and distinctive.

In the early parts, however, the blow-by-blow descriptions of the harlots-for-hire scene on Phuket around 1990 are tastefully done and largely sympathetic to the women. As a student of both Thai language and culture, Rosse casts himself as both participant and observer. By straddling that divide, he brings plenty of universal observations about life and hedonism to this specific milieu: “Everybody bears some burden of self-loathing, and for some that burden is so heavy they will only allow themselves joy if it’s connected to an act of penance.” 

From the nether regions of Phuket the memoir scales the heights of high-society after the narrator, despondent about breaking up with a bargirl, marries a respectable Thai lady he doesn’t love and starts a family. 

Now working in a five-star hotel, Rosse’s depiction of his life as a PR shill is both candid and comedic: “Normally I would greet a VIP in the lobby and walk him to the dining room, doing the warm up jokes on the way. Find out if the VIP has enough English for the intellectual jokes or if I would need to stick to jokes about farts. Settle in over appetizers and aperitifs, laud the hotel, hand out business cards, and then when the food hit the table ask for my photo opportunity.” 

In one of the most memorable tales in “Leaving Thailand” (available from Amazon as an ebook or paperback), the author develops an unlikely friendship with their young nanny from Myanmar, both of whom have been tyrannized by Steve’s wife. (“A 38 year old man and a 13 year old girl. We were Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot in an empty, sterile, existentialist landscape.”) 

But the story’s strong suit is that it plays out against a far bigger backdrop than the Phuket setting across a much wider swathe of personal history. In 2003, now in Iowa with his wife and children, the author took out a classified ad in The Phuket Gazette to try and track Pui down. The search results were zero.

Along the lines of JD Salinger’s classic short story, from which the title “For Pui with Love and Squalor” is taken, the friendship between Steve and Pui breaks free from the constraints of time and geography to float in a timeless realm. Sure, the particulars may have changed a little, but since maids and nannies from Myanmar remain fixtures throughout Southeast Asia, the story’s huge heart still pulsates with vitality.

In both Thailand and the US, the author covers plenty of ground. He takes a long trip up north to go trekking and smoke opium with a hill-tribe, which used to be a rite of passage for many backpackers. Once again, the story is not without its blackly comic interludes. When the author arrives back at JFK in New York an opium pipe he’d bought as a souvenir and forgotten about falls out on the table when the Customs agent searches his bags. After whisking him off to the back room for a personal search, he writes, “I told God, ‘Dear God, if you keep this cop’s finger out of my ass, I promise I’ll go back to Thailand and study Buddhism.”  

There’s also a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Oliver Stone movie, “Heaven and Earth.” Steve was the Head Set Dresser, and the only foreigner working on a team of nine Thai men. It’s another autobiographical piece in the collection with much grander ambitions than mere diarizing. In one passage he skewers the foreign stereotype of lazy and unreliable Thai male workers; these guys are both diligent and resourceful. In another, he conveys the main drawback of being an expat stranger living in very strange lands.

“And after two years of being the farang in Thailand, always being just outside the conversation, always trying to learn the rules and not accidentally insult anybody, always paying more for everything, it felt good to finally be on the team.” 

For me, the most captivating story is “Cellies.” It starts in Iowa at a high-school graduation party in a bean field, illuminated by the lights of pickup trucks and energized by kegs of beer. Coming home from such a party, similar to one that Rosse attended, a blonde cheerleader is paralyzed for life when her boyfriend rolled his pickup on the way home. 

Dorothy ends up in a nursing home across the street from the house where Steve grew up. After returning from Thailand in 1997 with his wife and two kids he winds up living in the family home again.

The contrast between all the developments in his own life, going to university then working in the film biz in New York, travelling all over Thailand before his bittersweet homecoming, and the details of Dorothy imprisoned in that nursing room, unable to move but still possessing the gifts of speech, sight and hearing, is both a devastating juxtaposition of parallel lives and a considerable feat of empathy for this hapless woman.

Hemingway famously said that the best stories are like icebergs; the biggest parts of them float beneath their surfaces: “The Old Man and the Sea” isn’t just about a fishing trip, right? 

“Cellies” put me in mind of that quote, but also my hometown in Canada and all the old friends who never left. Maybe they were paralyzed by a lack of curiosity about the bigger world or all tied up in the straightjacket of a 30-year mortgage. I don’t know. It’s an open-ended kind of story. Do your own reading and choose your own interpretation.

For the most part, the stories unfold in chronological order. Towards the end, however, the author’s reflections span the vast gulf of nowadays and yesteryears after a return trip he made to Thailand in 2019. 

Full of articulate and realistic stories written with candour and humour, the collection is a worthy non-fiction successor to “A Woman of Bangkok” told by “A Guy on Phuket,” who, despite the book’s title, never really left the kingdom.  

Jim Algie is the author of the nonfiction collection “Bizarre Thailand” and the more recent book of music journalism and literature, “On the Night Joey Ramone Died: Tales of Rock and Punk from Bangkok, New York, Cambodia and Norway.” Both are available from Amazon.

'Leaving Thailand' - From Phuket with love and heartaches | News by The Thaiger

The author, Steve Rosse

'Leaving Thailand' - From Phuket with love and heartaches | News by The Thaiger

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South Korean thriller “Parasite” sweeps the Oscars

Greeley Pulitzer

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South Korean thriller “Parasite” sweeps the Oscars | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The cast and crew of South Korean thriller celebrate their historic Oscar wins - Getty Images

“Parasite,” a South Korean thriller and dark comedy about modern poverty and wealth, swept the Academy awards on Sunday, taking home four Oscars including Best Picture, and making history. It is the first non-English-language film to take home the most coveted prize in Hollywood.

Its Best Original Screenplay award was the first Asian Oscar in that category, and the first for a Korean in any category. It comes on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the birth Korean cinema in 2019. The film also snapped up the prize for Best International Feature Film, as was widely expected.

Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, who also won for best director, could barely contain his enthusiasm:

“I feel like I’ll wake up to find it’s all a dream. It all feels very surreal.”

The vicious satire about social inequality snagged the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival last year, and Best Foreign Language Film at last month’s Golden Globes, two more firsts for a Korean movie.

The movie follows a family of scammers from South Korea’s underbelly, who plot to secure work in an affluent Seoul household, as tutors, a driver and a housekeeper.

Critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Bong told his Hollywood audience in his Golden Globes acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Bao Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American filmmaker, says Bong’s Oscar win is an “example to aspiring Asian and American filmmakers to follow”.

“Parasite” is deeply rooted in its depiction of Korean society without having to pander in any way to foreign audiences.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Cast of popular TV show claim they were stiffed

Greeley Pulitzer

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Cast of popular TV show claim they were stiffed | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Actress Duganghathai Satthathip speaks to reporters on Thursday - Wassayos Ngamkham, Bangkok Post

The cast of a popular Thai costume drama allege they haven’t been paid. Actors in the semi-historical TV drama Lued Suphan or “Blood of Suphan” have accused the producer of withholding about 2 million baht in wages.

The cast went to the Crime Suppression Division head office in Bangkok Thursday to file a complaint, saying the production company refused to pay wages owed to actors, actresses and scriptwriters.

While they did not publicly name the company, their Facebook page indicated it was produced by the Pre-Pro-Post-Live Entertainment company.

Actress and star Duanghathai Satthathip says the cast were hired after the producer got the work from the Ministry of Culture. Production began in August last year and continued into September, and it was broadcast on TV Channel 5 in October.

Duanghathai says some of the cast received wages, but she and other members in her group are still owed about 2 million baht that should have been paid by September 1 last year. The producer kept postponing the payments, which totalled about 2 million baht, while in the meantime, the drama has been rerun, she said.

Duanghathai says the cast contacted the Ministry of Culture and learned that the producer was paid in full, so they want to know why they haven’t been paid. Over the years, she says, they’ve worked on other productions with state agencies and had never encountered such a problem.

After examining the evidence, CSD investigators said it’s a civil, not a criminal matter and advised them to consult a lawyer about filing a civil lawsuit.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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