[the race for secretary-general]

Yesterday the Security Council held an informal straw poll to see where they stand on the various declared candidates for UN Secretary-General — Kofi Annan’s term ends on December 31 of this year — and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon of South Korea got the most endorsements.

To understand what this means, it might be helpful to back up and explain how the Secretary-General is chosen. According to Article 97 of Chapter XV of the UN Charter, “The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” On the surface, this makes it look like the power resides with the General Assembly, but in reality the Security Council recommends just one candidate, which the General Assembly then approves or not. So it’s the Security Council’s views that matter most.

In the secret-ballot straw poll, each Security Council member could check “encourage,” “discourage” or “no opinion” next to the name of each declared candidate. (The declared candidates are Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, and Indian novelist and UN Department of Public Information head Shashi Tharoor.) Minister Ban received 12 “encourage” votes, one “discourage,” and two “no opinions.” Tharoor came in a close second.

So who’s the “discourage,” eh? If I had to guess, I would say Japan, whose attempts to join the Security Council as a permanent member South Korea has vigorously resisted. But who knows?

[korean dance at lincoln center]

On Tuesday, August 8, at 7:30 p.m., the 82-year-old Korean Living National Treasure dancer Kang Sun Young will perform at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, along with her troupe of 60 dancers and a 14-piece Korean traditional orchestra.

It’s extremely rare for a Korean performance to be staged on this scale outside of Korea. From what I know of Korean dance, it should be a moving and powerful experience. You can read the press release for details.

The Korean Mission to the UN is giving out tickets, so if you’ve got any interest in coming with me, please let me know by July 25.

[the oddities of korean]

Learning Korean is hard work, but continually fascinating. I’m now on the first chapter of the Beginning 2 textbook, which means I’ve begun my second semester of self-study after taking off a couple of weeks to torment myself with vocabulary drill, and it’s nice to get back to the part I like best, which is weird grammar.

In the Korean language, verb endings do a lot of heavy lifting. As opposed to adding entire phrases or clauses, Koreans can change the whole character of a sentence just by manipulating the verb form.

For example, ka- (-) is the root of the verb to go. The simplest sentence you can make with this verb is Kayo (가요), which literally means Go, with an implied subject. (For simplicity, we’ll assume the implied subject is you.)

Here are some of the variations you can make by changing the verb form:

Kaseyo. (가세요.) = Please go.
Kal keoyeyo? (갈 거예요?) = Do you intend to go?
Kalkkayo? (갈까요?) = Should you go? or Shall you go?
Kajiyo? (가지요?) = You’re going, right?
Kago Shipeoyo. (가고 싶어요.) = You want to go.
Kaneundeyo. (가는데요.) = You’re going. Do you need any further assistance?

Note that all of this is in the present tense, and all at the polite informal level of formality. I find it incredibly interesting that you can pack so much meaning into verb forms. It’s just a very different way to approach communication.

[the taste of summer]

There are certain flavors that I will always associate with summer: fresh blackberries hot from the sun and picked straight from the vine, chocolate milkshakes like my grandmother used to make when my best friend and I would watch Scooby Doo, ice-cold lemonade.

For Koreans, the flavor of summer is apparently naengmyeon (냉면), or cold buckwheat noodles. Today the New York Times profiles this chewy treat, which I have to admit I never liked. Lately my colleague Young has been trying to convince me to give it another shot, so I will soon be indulging in this peculiar Korean dish once again. Hopefully Kang Suh, which she says is the restaurant to go to, will do a better job than the hole-in-the-wall student eatery near Daehagno in Seoul where I developed my current dislike.

[korean cuisine]

“Heaven knows, I have eaten a lot of unusual things, but I found these little fellas terrifying.” That is food writer Stefan Gates’s take on Beondegi (번데기), or boiled silkworm larvae, a popular Korean snack. The photo and comment are part of his “search for the ultimate edible challenge,” as documented by the BBC. Other Korean culinary delights include sea slugs and dried frog tea.

It’s features like these that make me envy those friends of mine who have become obsessed with Italy or France. Of all the countries in the world to snare my passions, why did it have to be the one that thinks larvae are a tasty treat for the kiddies?

[weekly world music 13: songs for the dear leader]

Song of General KIM IL SUNG | Don’t Ask My Name | Children’s Music 1 (Music Gallery of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)

애국가 (Aegukga) (National Anthem of the Republic of Korea)

Been hankering for creepy marches and disturbing paeans to terrifying totalitarian dictators? Your search is over!

In honor of North Korea’s recent erectile dysfunction, here are a few tracks from the DPRK’s charming Music Gallery, as filled with joy as everything produced in the jolly North. My Korean isn’t good enough to understand most of the lyrics, and I’m not about to go wandering around the South Korean UN Mission in search of someone to translate North Korean propaganda ditties, so unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly what these tunes are about. I did catch the children singing “김정일 ... 우리 아버지” (Kim Jong-il … uri abeoji, or Kim Jong-il … our father) at one point, but you knew that was in there somewhere.

In the interest of fairness, I’ve also included the national anthem of the Republic of Korea, whose title translates to The Patriotic Song — you may recall hearing it following some short-track skating event in the Winter Olympics. It’s better than the North Korean stuff, although I find it disappointing that so many Asian countries have gone for poignant yet rousing anthems in the European classical tradition. Like, wouldn’t it be cooler if the national anthem of Indonesia was the Kecak, or if India’s was a raga that took 45 minutes? If Nepal can have its wacky flag, shouldn’t someone have a truly bizarre national anthem?

Oh, and if you happen to be wondering why a “weekly” feature appears as sporadically as Weekly World Music, let’s just say that I’m on summer schedule, and also that I’m sorta lazy. I’ll try to keep up with it every week, but some weeks it’ll slide. Life is full of broken promises.

[cookin’ with nanta]

The Korean show Cookin’, also known as Nanta, has arrived in New York City for an open-ended run. We saw this in Seoul and had a blast. Here’s the writeup from AOL CityGuide New York:

If the Food Network’s ‘Iron Chef’ show married Broadway’s ‘Stomp’, this would be their wacky offspring. Direct from Seoul, South Korea to the Minetta Lane Theatre comes an hour of gustatory excitement called ‘Cookin’.’ Four chefs are given a simple mission by a frenzied maitre d’: Prepare an entire feast (and a wedding banquet, no less) in only one hour, all while accompanied by strains of jazz, rock and Korean music. That’s a 60-minute non-stop music-and-food extravaganza as these kitchen masters use up nearly every single utensil in search of the perfect rhythm and combine cooking and traditional Korean Samulnori drumming. At the end of the show, they will have managed to prepare a meal of dumplings, soup and stir-fry, but it’s the process that makes this worth watching. Knives pound on the chopping block, broomsticks metamorphose into fighting tools, plates soar and fruit turn into madcap projectiles and juggling props. Best of all, some fortunate audience members will have the opportunity to taste the results; a lucky pair will even be in on the act, starring as the bride and groom, Ms. Lee and Mr. Kim.

As the white guy in the audience, I got picked to be Mr. Kim, and I married a sweet young Korean woman whose name I never got. But I still have a picture of myself in the silly hat the Cookin’ people strapped to my head.