Terrace House from a third worlder’s eyes (Part 2) – On mobility

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Photo borrowed from http://other-worldly.org

I began watching Terrace House: Aloha State because Part 2 of Terrace House: Opening New Doors is still unavailable in Netflix. Before this, I also binged on Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City. Now that I’m nearing the end of Aloha State, I can’t help but notice how the members can move in and out of Hawaii and Japan freely. And I am envious!

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Photo borrowed from http://other-worldly.org

Take Lauren, for example. She left Terrace House in Hawaii to make a new life in Tokyo, Japan. Just. Like. That.

If it were someone like me, who’s from the Philippines, the move may not be so nice and easy like that. There will be an extensive list of documents to submit for a visa. There will be a lot of scrutiny about my life and background. I will have to prove that I am worthy of entering such a first world place.

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Photo borrowed from http://other-worldly.org

Anna, too, left Terrace House to seek more adventures in other countries. Her reason was that she already experienced a lot of things in Hawaii. I suppose she means that she felt that it was time to move on. Again, I am amazed at how easy it is for these people to just pack up and leave.

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Photo borrowed from http://other-worldly.org

And then there’s Guy who just flew in and out of Hawaii and Japan. If there’s a surfing competition elsewhere, say, Indonesia, he flies. Just. Like. That.

My middle class upbringing in this third world (developing) country molded me to be appreciative of, and familiar with, various lifestyles elsewhere. My experiences studying abroad also gave me a taste of what it feels like to live the first world (developed) lifestyle. But even if my upbringing, mindset, and sensibilities can possibly fit into a wealthy country’s, the reality of my nationality prevents me from pursuing that kind of lifestyle easily. That makes me sad.

As my Filipino friend who was also a student in Korea and I frequently talked about, we are highly skilled, decent, and hardworking people who desire a life that will make us feel human, that is, the kind of life where a trip to the beach or a walk around the park is as easy as 1-2-3; the kind of life where moving around, be it through public transportation or traveling farther, is not so complicated. But because we are not in the wealthy side of Asian countries and our nationality carries with it various negative connotations (even if we are decent people, really), opportunities do not come easily compared to wealthy Asians or Westerners with white skin. It was a time when we felt it was a great disadvantage to have been born Filipinos.

Watching Terrace House, I feel that the fact that the members can move around freely around the world is a privilege, a wonderful privilege, that they do not think of much. It is ingrained in them. They just get up and leave.

P.S. I’m glad that the countdown to Part 2 of Boys and Girls in the City is shorter now. If I’m not mistaken, it will be aired in Netflix on May 22. Can’t wait!

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Weekends with Viu and Netflix

These days, my weekends are spent on Viu and Netflix…and a couple of hours on Coursera learning random courses for free. But it’s mostly on Viu and Netflix because let’s face it, escapism is best acted upon on weekends.

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Netflix, I feel, is like the Facebook of films and TV series. It just sucks you in once you open your TV screen. You tell yourself you’re only going to watch an episode of say, Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, but because the synopsis that appears at the end of the episode seems intriguing, you stay for another episode. You want to know what happens next and next and next. Until practically the whole day has been sucked by Netflix.

Or when Netflix beckons you to open the app because of updates on new shows. You open it out of curiosity. You add it to your “To-watch” list. But you end up clicking the triangle button, anyway.

Sometimes, it’s an American film like Annihilation. Sometimes, it’s a Korean film like Steel Rain. Sometimes, it’s something Japanese like the live action version of Fullmetal Alchemist.

I’ve bookmarked an Indian film called Love Per Square Foot which appears to me like an Indian rom-com. I’ve also bookmarked a Thai film called The Last Executioner which seems to me like a docu-drama. And then there’s the Spanish film called Veronica which is supposed to be a really haunting and scary horror film. And there’s a lot more in my viewing list. So many shows, so little time!

And that’s what I like about Netflix. I get a glimpse of what the world has to offer in terms of film and TV series.

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But when I feel like watching something Asian, you know, the type which you won’t likely find on Netflix, I turn to Viu. Right now, I’m into a Korean TV series called Welcome to Waikiki. For around an hour (which is the duration of one episode), I just laugh and laugh and laugh at the hilarity of the situations the characters find themselves in. I have also watched several good films in this streaming site, both Korean classics like You are My Sunshine, The King and the Clown, Spellbound, and Il Mare, and relatively new releases, some of which seem to be on their way to becoming classics such as A Taxi Driver, The Last Princess, and The Throne.

Most of my viewing used to be on Viu, Netflix, and Tribe, but Tribe got a bit boring with their offerings so right now I’m just living with Viu and Netflix.

I wrote in a magazine called 2nd Opinion (2.0) about how if you want to watch East Asian offerings, Viu is your go-to streaming site, and that if you want Korean and Southeast Asian offerings you should go visit Tribe. But among all the streaming sites I’ve tried,  Netflix offers the most variety in terms of TV series and films to watch from all over the world. It has a little bit of everything. But of course, Viu is still good for Asian stuff that Netflix probably will not add to its viewing list. So for a weekend binge-watcher like me, Netflix and Viu are good companions.

“Bad Genius” is so unexpectedly good!

My heart has a soft spot for Thai TV dramas and films since I have lived there for close to 2 years as an international student on scholarship. The Thai friends I’ve made introduced me to wonderful stuff I wouldn’t have found out on my own. That’s why when I learned that a Thai film will be shown in Philippine cinemas, I got excited. Another (mediated) glimpse of my “second home”!

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Photo credit: lakwatseralovers.blogspot.com

Bad Genius is a teen flick about an insanely intelligent student who’d get entangled in an elaborate cheating scheme. I did not have high expectations for this film. Initially, I just wanted to somehow re-connect with my Thai memories.

But I got more than what I thought I’d get. Bad Genius is a teen flick, yes, but it’s an edgy teen flick that’s quite stylized into the thriller genre. The suspense is so tightly edited and so superbly acted that you’re sort of left breathless when a scene ends. After which, the suspense begins again, but with higher and higher stakes as the story progresses. The cheating started small, with lead character Lynn helping her friend Grace pass one test. When Grace’s boyfriend Pat gets wind of this, the idea of monetizing cheating on a bigger scale is born. Soon, student clients flock to her “business” in the guise of piano lessons with “Mentor Lynn.” It gets so big that Lynn and her friends engage in the biggest cheating scheme of all—monetizing answers to a global academic exam called STIC.

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Photo credit: www.filmdoo.com

What struck me about the film was the various reasons why the students cheated. Grace wanted more time for her passion, which is theater. Time she did not spend studying was devoted to acting and theater delights. And she seemed genuinely happy to be on stage. Another reason behind her cheating was to be eligible to go to school abroad with her boyfriend.

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Photo credit: says.com

Her boyfriend Pat, meanwhile, was the classic lazy rich kid who cheats to avoid the wrath of parents who just want him to study and learn well, but who can’t seem to motivate their children to do so. Aside from fear, the only other motivation the parents provide is material reward, including a brand new luxury car.

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Photo credit: rappler.com

And why does Lynn lead the cheating scheme? Born into a poor family and armed with only a highly analytical brain and a gift for memorization, the temptation to rake in millions to be able to buy her way out of her situation was so easy to give in to. Soon, she had a hefty back account, loads of money to buy herself and her father nice things, as well as funds to be able to study abroad just like the rich kids who copy answers from her.

It is also worth noting that the materialistic tendencies of Lynn seemed to be somehow (unintentionally?) encouraged by her father. When Lynn hands her father a new shirt, her father asks for a new pair of pants, as well. His assumption was that the money came from the piano lessons that Lynn gives. He never notices that something might be off–until it’s too late. In one scene, Lynn was registering for STIC via her Macbook, no doubt an expensive piece of equipment. How could he not have noticed that something seems to be odd since he could have easily seen it lying around the house?

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Photo credit: rappler.com

In Bad Genius, cheating seems to be a shortcut to reaching their goals. With the stress that hounds them, be it from balancing extra-curricular activities and academics (as the case with Grace) or from potential parental wrath (as the case with Pat) or the need to be at par with how those up above live (as the case with Lynn and Bank), cheating appears to be the surefire solution.

The film ends with a hint at honesty (we never really get to hear Lynn’s confession about the STIC scandal) but somehow, it does not feel satisfying. Although Grace, in earlier interrogation scenes, hints at Lynn’s supposedly good heart, I am not convinced with her sudden change. The fierceness of her determination to succeed in earlier parts of the film was just too strong that it feels so hard to be convinced that she can take a step back and reflect. Moreover, although the film shows things that are twisted about Thai society, almost everyone seems to have gotten away with it.

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Photo credit: tube.hk

As for academic cheating in real life, I did not encounter it in my cohort while I was a student there. However, I can say that the culture of memorization is alive, and that plagiarism seems to be a big issue (at least while I was studying there) given my school’s emphasis on original work and Turnitin when thesis time came.

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Photo credit: rappler.com

But going back to Bad Genius, the ride was definitely thrilling and the overall story quite engaging despite a lackluster ending. It’s the type of contemporary Southeast Asian film that I would considering re-watching, that I would enthusiastically recommend to friends and whoever might be interested in Thai/ Asian film, and that I would even probably add to a film viewing list in a film class.

 

Terrace House from a third worlder’s eyes

Most of the time, Netflix predicts what I am most likely to enjoy watching with great accuracy. While RE:Mind, a Japanese show about a group of high school girls who get mysteriously locked up in someone’s lavish European-style dining area as they try to figure out why, was just “Meh” for me, Terrace House: Opening New Doors surprisingly fits my taste.

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Image borrowed from The Verge.

Unlike Pinoy Big Brother which tends to be vulgar, Terrace House stays classy and quietly engaging. It’s so Japanese that way. Even if some characters rub some people off the wrong way (I’m talking about you, Yuudai Arai), the arguments are genuine exchanges of POVs. There is almost always someone mediating and seeing the merits of both sides of the argument (sometimes Shion Okamoto, sometimes Nakamura Takayuki). There are attempts to understand the other side. The arguments are quietly dramatic but never physically violent.

Also, Sato Tsubasa is the cutest thing in the house. Her whole face just lights up whenever she laughs and smiles.

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Image from her Instagram account.

Mizuki Haruta, meanwhile, lives my dream job of being a writer/ editor and interpreter/ translator who holds her own time. I was surprised when, in the middle of watching one of the episodes, she began speaking in Korean with her ex. I thought the words sounded familiar until my ears caught up with my brain and yes, I can indeed understand their conversation!

And Ami Komuro is…well…I neither like her nor dislike her. Her bluntness can be funny sometimes, especially when the funniness is boosted by the presenters’ insane comments.

Speaking of which, the presenters’ comments is my favorite part of the show, really. I laugh out loud every time they poke fun at Ami and Yuudai’s interactions; I swoon whenever they speculate about the possibly budding thing between Shion and Tsubasa. The humor is very Asian, and the observations about human behavior and interactions are on point.

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Image borrowed from Bustle.

But as a viewer who’s not Japanese, I cannot help but see some aspects of the show from the perspective of a third worlder. For example, when Yuudai mentions that he is poor and does not come from a wealthy family, my mind begins to drift off into another place where being poor means hunger, tattered clothes, and the absence of a soft bed and a proper roof over one’s head. But Yuddai doesn’t seem anything like that. He is even aware of brand names when they went to an outlet store at Karuizawa in one of the episodes. The cognitive dissonance jarred me a bit, until I remembered that the state of poverty is no doubt different in a country like Japan. Oh, how I would like to be “poor” in Japan! Hahaha.

Related to this is how I wonder how Nakamura Takayuki can survive as a 31-year old only on part-time jobs and snowboarding sponsorships. Where I come from, serving as restaurant staff is insufficient to make ends meet. His sponsorship also seems seasonal — but I could be wrong. But my question still remains — how does he survive? I can’t wrap my head around it.

I can understand how Mizuki can survive. She writes, edits, translates, and has her own business. While writing in the Philippines can’t bring much money home, translating stuff can bump up your salary because of the language premium. And having your own business further bumps up your pay.

It seems that my confusions (issues?) stem from perceptions and definitions of poverty, survival, and success. Although my Asian upbringing allows me to understand the humor and the motivations behind the actions of the cast, there are some things that I can only understand from my own culture and experience.

Hmmm, we’ll see. At the time of writing, Netflix has only released up to Episode 8. We’ll see how this all pans out.

Park Min-Gyu’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess” hints at Hell Joseon even from the ’80s

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Credit: The Collagist

Present day Korea is referred to as Hell Joseon, mostly by the younger generation who believe that “Korean society is unfair and corrupt.” Most young Koreans would like to leave the country for greener pastures, which can be interpreted as a place with a great paying job, a place which values merit over pedigree, a place that is free from the relentless rat race, or all of the above.

As I read Park Min-Gyu’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess”, I realized that the concept of Hell Joseon may not be new to the Korean consciousness. It seems to have always been there, deftly developing its ugliness and desperation alongside the country’s miraculous economic development.

The meat of the story was set in the 1980’s, a time when Korea was beginning to feel the effects of economic prosperity. Consumerism was on the rise, as can be seen in the constant talk of sales, discounts, and working at the department store. Because people sought to make their images better through material things, they shopped. A lot. The extreme emphasis on physical appearance led to competition between people. The beautiful were glorified and the ugly, shunned.

Sounds familiar? Sounds like something from today? Yes, it does. And this was felt as early as the ’80s. It seems that people from that time were already groaning from the weight of perfection’s demands.

Mind you, this resonates not just with Koreans but with foreign readers as well. Millenials inheriting the effects of the past generations’ mistakes in the socioeconomic sphere can feel their own version of Hell Joseon, as well. This makes the book all the more poignant.

Park Min-Gyu articulated it best in the passage:

“Why are we forced to compare and ask, what grade did you get, what place did you finish in, whose clothes are you wearing, where did you go to school, where do you work? Why does not being at the top automatically mean you’ve failed? Why do we feel the need to look good on paper, and who decides what’s written on this ‘paper’? Why can’t everyone just be left alone? Why can’t everyone just stop running? Who is making us feel more shame with every ounce of envy? Who is the elusive Pied Piper at the head of the pack, luring everyone with his pipe? And just who and where am I?”

 

P.S. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, indeed. I got my copy of “Pavane from a Dead Princess” from the second-hand box while living at the Yonsei University dormitory. Usually, students who are about to leave the dormitory (and oftentimes, Korea, huhuhu) put items that can’t fit anymore in their luggage inside designated boxes at the dorm halls. Students still staying at the dorm are free to help themselves with all these second-hand stuff. I was always on the lookout for items like these (you know, student-on-scholarship kind of lifestyle). To that person who left this book, whoever you are, I would like you to know that your book found a good home with me!

Hwayugi and the birthing of new myths about Korea

Korea is known for its thriving Hallyu (Korean Wave) export, comprising music, TV dramas, music, fashion, and food, to name a few. When I think of Korea, I think of a highly urbanized space–Seoul, specifically–that harmoniously co-exists with culture and tradition. I think of kimchi, ramyeon, samgyeopsal, and soju. I also think of nature-inspired skincare and bright cosmetics.

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I have recently finished watching Hwayugi: A Korean Odyssey (화유기) in Netflix and I couldn’t help but notice something oddly pleasing yet partly unsettling. That is, while watching the TV series, not only did I see familiar aspects of Korea, I also saw aspects that I feel the show is trying to build and institutionalize (whether the creators realize it or not!).

But don’t get me wrong. I am not against a Korea with a stronger image. I am not quite sure why I found it oddly pleasing yet partly unsettling. I suppose that is for another time for reflection and eventual blogging.

At any rate, here are the Korean aspects which I feel the show is trying to build and institutionalize during the course of my enjoyment of viewing Hwayugi: A Korean Odyssey (화유기). All of these aspects pertain to Hallyu (Korean Wave).

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  1. Every time you squeal for your favorite K-pop stars (aka, your “bias”), you inadvertently give away your energy, thereby creating energy balls which the Hallyu boss feeds on. In the TV drama, Woo Hwi-chul created Lucifer Entertainment agency so that he can collect these energy balls. But most of the time, P.K., his second-in-command and a top Hallyu star, stole these balls to feed the love of his life, a zombie whom he fondly nicknamed Richie (or “buja” – the Korean word for rich). This drama tries to create the idea that the Hallyu (Korean Wave) industry is built on a supernatural, larger-than-life foundation; that the industry is a mythical movement that they feed. Another way of looking at it is that the energy balls symbolizes the way Hallyu fans feed and revitalize the industry financially and through their various efforts–which isn’t far from the truth in real life. d07957c5be409a17e4049f1839b65b15
  2. Pop stars are monsters that enchant you. Their supernatural powers are what makes them famous worldwide, implies Hwayugi. There is no mention of the famously known long training years K-pop stars undergo. There is no reference to hard work and struggle. There is no mention of talent. They. Just. Are. Magic. hwayugi1-00372.jpg
  3. Hallyu’s Big boss is a monster with supernatural powers, too. Woo Hwi-chul, big boss of Lucifer Entertainment, makes the magic happen. He knows how to make the industry successful through supernatural means, with his team of fellow monsters. Overall, Hwayugi gives you the impression that the Hallyu industry is mainly composed of supernatural creatures that make the industry go round. And that this supernatural element is what makes Hallyu successful. Reading various research works on the Hallyu industry will tell you otherwise. That is, Hallyu’s success is a confluence of worldwide economic, political, and artistic forces.    hwayugi06-00375.jpg
  4. Big business is subordinate to Hallyu “gods”. The CEO of MSUN, a fictional mobile phone manufacturing company, is a big-time executive in the human sphere. But in the supernatural sphere, he cooks, cleans, and looks after monsters and other supernatural creatures. As with energy balls, the CEO of MSUN likewise symbolizes the way big business plays strong against ordinary people, but bows down to a force higher than them. Simply put, the show seems to create the impression that it’s a Hallyu world out there.hwayugi1-00485.jpg
  5. Your friendly neighborhood ice cream seller and bartender are gods of the seasons. But some seemingly ordinary people are in the supernatural sphere, too. These include the winter “god” who owns a small ice cream shop and a summer “goddess” who manages a cocktail bar. As they disguise themselves as ordinary human beings, they influence the workings of the world in subtle ways–or so Hwayugi leads us to believe.

Hwayugi, whether the creators intended to or not, gave birth to new myths about Korea that may strengthen the middle power’s image in the eyes of Korean TV drama viewers. If more TV dramas of this kind message appear and if the message gets repeated, it is likely that this image of Korea will become institutionalized and accepted as true.

Furthermore, Hwayugi is a pretty good TV drama that also provided subtle commentaries about Korean culture and society in various points in history (which is why, I suppose, it was called a Korean odyssey). Because of this, the drama deserves further reflection–which I hope I can do in the coming days.

Five Reasons Why I Love Asian TV Series and Films

1. There is usually no unnecessary sex scene, unlike in Hollywood films where the sex would come out of nowhere, at random points in the series or movie. A series that comes to mind is Misaeng, a Korean TV drama about the working world. The story of the ordinary working man/ woman’s life is engaging despite having no romance angle. And it was a big hit in Asia, too!

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2. Characters are usually not in black-and-white. You see the complexity of humanity and human relations. There is usually a subtle manipulation between characters. I also like how we sometimes see the antagonist not be an antagonist in the beginning – Some films and series let us see how the antagonist becomes the way he or she is. There is no particular film or series that comes to mind at the moment. This is just something I have observed throughout my viewing.

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3. The scenes are usually shot dramatically and beautifully. It’s almost always a visual feast. I understand that some people may think these are unnecessary shots that make the film or series longer than it should be. But for me, watching films and series is for seeing beautiful things. Seeing it in a relaxed setting and pace is sort of like an icing on the cake, too. Almost all Korean TV dramas and films are like this. In recent memory, there’s Japanese series Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salary Man, as well as Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.

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4. The humor is something I can relate to. My country of origin may be far, but the humor almost always hits close to home. The language may be different and the subtitle a bit faulty, but the actions and facial expressions can be enough to make you laugh.

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5. There is a historical component that informs as well as it entertains. I love learning about the history, culture, and society of other countries. And series like Six Flying Dragons from Korea and Khun Chai Ronapee from Thailand, as well as films like Jan Dara which is also from Thailand and The Road Home from China, to name a few, feeds this curiosity.

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