[mtv-k is here]

Some time back, I told you about MTV Desi and MTV Chi, for the South Asian-American and Chinese-American markets respectively, and I mentioned that MTV-K was in the works.

MTV-K is now here.

And, as with the other two stations, I have helpfully done the work of combing through the top-ten candidate videos, weeding out the weepy piano ballads, the overblown hip-hop extravaganzas and the talentless girl bands who mostly shake their tiny, tiny booties, and leaving you with only the gems (or at least the bearable videos).

NB that this is an IE-only exercise, and that I can’t link directly to the videos, so you just have to go to the site and click on them yourself.

Big Mama have gotten a lot of attention for being overweight, ordinary-looking women with great voices in a country whose music industry has tended to reward beauty over talent. “Break Away” was their breakthrough single.

Bobby Kim has a pleasant enough voice, and “Falling in Love” is a pleasant enough song, with a pleasant enough video. Get the idea? Perfectly pleasant. Not bad. Not great, but nice. The sort of song that you would let date your daughter but not marry her.

Far East Movement is a SoCal hip-hop trio, of whom two members are Korean and one is Japanese and Chinese. They apparently did a song for Fast and Furious II: Tokyo Drift, which I somehow managed not to see. “Holla Hey” is good silly fun.

If you love Shakira’s rock numbers, you’ll like Jaurim’s “Fan Yi Ya.” Enjoy a video of an English version at their MySpace site.

“Obvious (Want You)” is a nice little punk dis from a girl who can play bass. Check out Maggie Kim’s website for her cover of “Raspberry Beret.”

And there you have it. Enjoy.

[still more of that damn korean song]

아름다음 강산 (Beautiful Rivers and Mountains) by Lee Sun Hee (이선희)

Note: To view the videos, click on the links next to the light-blue words on the left, in the third section down from the top. Especially worthwhile is the third such link (이선희 - 아름다운 강산, 아카라카치, for those who read Korean or like to sqint) You will need to install an ActiveX control, and if you’re using Firefox, you’ll need to restart afterwards. IE is a better bet. Sorry it’s so much trouble!

Okay, you’re probably sick to death of hearing about “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains” by now, but here are three versions by the sexiest Korean woman ever, Lee Sung Hee, who has become something of a feminist hero simply for looking like an actual human being, with glasses and human hair, instead of like your typical K-pop starlets, who are all rail-thin and have fake hair. (I suppose it’s no surprise that prefer the nerdy girl in glasses with the powerhouse talent underneath to the vacuous beauty queens.)

Of particular interest is the third link in the list, in which Lee performs for a World Cup crowd in 2002. It’s kind of amazing to see this song, once regarded as a subversive attack on the state, performed as the centerpiece of a gigantic nationalist pageant. But then, it was also weird seeing thousands upon thousands of South Koreans urging each other to “Be the Reds.” As I have said before, a sense of irony is not Korea’s strong suit.

[있어요! / i have it!]

At last! At last I have it! From the Koryo Bookstore on West 32nd Street, I have procured a region-free, English-subtitled edition of the first Korean movie I ever saw, and one that I have wanted to see again ever since: Barking Dogs Never Bite, a.k.a. A Higher Animal, a.k.a. Dog of Flanders. More when I’ve actually re-watched it.

[more on shin jung-hyeon]

아름다음 강산 (Beautiful Rivers and Mountains) by 신중현 (Shin Jung-hyeon/Shin Jung-hyun) (Love, Peace & Poetry: Asian Psychedelic Music)

I have a bit more to share about Shin Jung-hyeon (신정현), the Korean singer I mentioned yesterday.

First of all, I think a better translation of the title is the more literal “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains.” In fact, with Young’s help, I translated the lyrics — she did a rough translation, then I went through and tried to make it into more coherent poetry, spending a lot of time flipping through my Korean-English dictionary to look at secondary meanings of words. But we’ll get to the translation in a moment.

The story of the song is also interesting. It came about when Park Chung Hee (박정희), the longtime military dictator of South Korea, asked Shin Jung-hyeon to write a song in praise of the Blue House, the official residence of South Korea’s president — the equivalent of a sitting U.S. president requesting a song in praise of the White House. Shin refused, which is not something to which dictators take kindly. Not long afterwards, he released “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains”:

Beautiful Rivers and Mountains

Blue sky
White clouds
A thread of wind rises
To fill my heart

Blue-green leaves
Blue-green river
In this beautiful place
You’re here and I’m here

Hold my hand, let’s go and see, run and see that wilderness
Let’s come together and speak of our new dreams

Blue sky
White clouds
A thread of wind rises
To fill my heart

Into this world
We were born
This beautiful place
This proud place
We will live

The brilliant red sun
Glitters on the white waves
Together they overflow the ocean
How good it is to live here!

I will love you with the song I sing

Today I’ll go to meet you and we’ll talk
Time will pass
We will live together, then fade and fall

In this everlasting place
I hunger to create
Our new dream

Spring and summer go,
Fall and winter come
Beautiful rivers and mountains!

Your heart, my heart
Your heart, my heart
Yours and mine are one heart
You and me
Our love is eternal, eternal
We are all, all in endless harmony

Now, somehow President Park got it in his head that this song was a political snub, and he probably wasn’t entirely wrong. According to what Young has been able to dig up in various Korean blogs and in an interview with Shin himself, the trouble began when he and his group, The Men, performed the song live on television. Shin had shaved his head for the performance, and the backing group had put up their long hair with traditional women’s hairpins, all of which was considered outrageous at the time. Park’s wife saw the performance and was deeply insulted. The insult was compounded when Shin gave the song to Kim Jeong-mi (김정미), who had a reputation as a twepyejeon (퇴폐적), or decadent, and recorded the song in an exaggeratedly breathy, sexy style.

But what really did Shin in was a conviction for dealing marijuana. According to a recent interview, he played a gig at one of Korea’s biggest theaters, and the many Western hippies on hand — apparently some of the hippie vagabonds on the Asian trail made it all the way to the Hermit Kingdom — gave him so much marijuana that he ended up supplying the whole Korean rock scene for a while, though never indulging himself. (This is what the man says, anyway.) Once he was busted, the authorities had every excuse to ban Shin from performing and to ban a number of his songs from being played on the radio. Still, he remained an important pop composer, and his songs were often major hits recorded by Korea’s biggest stars.

The ban was finally lifted in the 1980s, when Shin began recording and performing again. In 1997, there was a major tribute concert and a renewed interest in Shin’s career, and he is now widely respected as one of the most influential Korean pop artists of all time.

[women leaders]

Minister Kang Kyung-hwa (강경화 공사님) of the Republic of Korea has been appointed UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Minister Kang was serving here at the Mission when I started, back in 2004. She is an extraordinary woman: intelligent, articulate in both English and Korean, charismatic, passionate about her work. She has been especially focused on pushing through an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the text of which was agreed this August after five years of negotiations. Ms. Kang’s particular emphasis was on the rights of women with disabilities, and she was able to get a paragraph on the subject included in the final text.

It is presumably in recognition of this work that Minister Kang was appointed Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. As a pro-Korean feminist, I’m personally pleased to see a powerful Korean woman coming to international prominence. On a global scale, Korea does pretty well by its women — they’re educated, they have lots of professional opportunities, they vote — but for all that, there is still plenty of sexism and inequality. Minister Kang’s career is part of changing that.

I also find her inspiring as a model for Jenny, who is also attractive, intelligent, hardworking and capable. Last night Jenny caught sight of an old classmate, Caolionn O’Connell, in a Nova episode about E=mc2, and it got Jenny worrying about whether she’s made the right choices in life or tried hard enough.

I personally think Jenny’s doing just fine. She tends to have degree envy, but unlike science majors, humanities majors who go straight to grad school tend to waste their time there. If Jenny had gone straight into grad school, it would have been to study Provençal poets some more, and that would mean that she couldn’t go get her Ph.D. in something she’s passionate about — Central Asian religious development, say — after she’d built up some solid knowledge about the subject. So I don’t think it was a mistake for Jenny to strike out into the real world after college.

Jenny has never gone in a straight line, but that’s just part of who she is: someone with wide-ranging interests and diverse talents. Still, I can understand her worry. She’s building up a formidable set of skills in her current job — everything from management to programming — but what are they all for? Being good at getting things done is only meaningful if you have something meaningful to get done. And for all the value and importance of good corporate management, and of getting women into the higher echelons of the business world, I agree with Jenny that there has to be more to her life than helping insurance companies be slightly more efficient.

That’s why Minister Kang is an inspiring model. Jenny and I still want to join the Foreign Service in a few years, but even if we don’t, there are other ways for Jenny to follow her passions. New opportunities will arise, interesting doors will open, and Jenny will choose which ones to step through. When she does, she’ll have the necessary skills to be successful. Could Jenny one day be UN Deputy High Commissioner for Something Important? Absolutely. And even though she hasn’t gotten her Ph.D. yet, I think Jenny is doing all the right things to become someone like Minister Kang down the road.

Well, except for being Korean. There are some things even Jenny can’t do.

But fewer than you’d think.

[yes, minister]

The office is currently abuzz, with everyone racing around to prepare for the arrival this afternoon of His Excellency Mr. BAN Ki-moon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, as we refer to him around these parts (the caps are to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate recent incident in which a Congolese representative referred to the Minister as “Mr. Moon”).

Minister Ban will be making his longest stay ever in New York, hanging around until the early morning of the 28th. During this extended visit, he will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, holding bilateral meetings with as many foreign ministers as he can manage, and otherwise meeting and greeting anyone and everyone who might have some influence over the selection of the next Secretary-General. This dense schedule will no doubt keep the Mission staff ferociously busy during the next week, leaving only us scribes to twiddle our thumbs until the Minister once again heads home.

As for Minister Ban’s bid to become the next Secretary-General, it’s looking good at the moment. In the latest straw poll of the Security Council, Ban came out with 14 “Encourage” votes and just one “Discourage,” putting him at the top of the list. The big question, of course, is whether that “Discourage” came from Japan, which has no veto power, or from either China or the United States, which as permanent members could quash his candidacy. There is always the possibility of a dark-horse candidate, but whatever happens, it looks like the Security Council will vote no later than October.

[two years]

Permanent Mission BuildingThe I.M. Pei-designed South Korean Mission on East 45th Street.

I sort of missed it as it went by, but July 27 marked two years for me at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations. This is the longest I’ve stayed at any job except for DoubleClick, which lasted three long years.

But it hasn’t seemed that long, presumably because I really enjoy being here. By two years in at DoubleClick, I’d gone through a fairly disastrous opening period and suffered through my boss Karen’s pregnancy leave, during which her second-in-command hewed strictly to her orders that I do no work except editing — which was a problem because there was, during that period, no editing to be done — and then, upon her return, confronted me with threats of imminent dismissal because I hadn’t been doing any work. Things turned around in my last year, when I finally got my own ego in check and learned how to behave decently in an office, while my boss finally worked out how to run a writing department (useful tip: request writing samples from job candidates). I suppose the whole transformative experience of DoubleClick, which was my first serious job out of school, made it seem longer than it was.

In any case, that’s now far in the past. Apparently speechwriters don’t usually last long here at the Mission, so I may be headed for veteran status fairly soon.

[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?