Jisan Valley Rock Festival – A Photo Review

Best Use of Technology – Radiohead
The British Friday night headliners turned their backdrop into a series of high-def TV screens, overlaying images of their faces with their instruments, dissolving into static, racing green lines and other aptly trippy shit. The show itself was solid but a bit dry; I don’t think anyone there could claim that singing along to “Pyramid Song” is a) fun or b) possible.

Worst Use of Technology – The Stone Roses
Don’t get me wrong—the Roses put on one of the best shows all weekend. But the Sunday night headliners’ visual effects looked like they came from the Roses’ own decade (the ‘80s), like that lame collage effect when you divide the screen into four parts of the same video, then eight parts, then 16… A terrific festival closer, but a horrible visual effects team.

Most Likely to be the Glam Rock Resurrection of Kim Jong-il – Beat Burger
Poor Beat Burger—in addition to bearing an awful pseudonym and playing what felt like the same song for an hour at 2:30 a.m., dude looks like the illegitimate child of the late North Korean dictator and David Bowie’s gay side.

Most Ironic Racial Sensitivity – Los Lonely Boys
To their credit, brothers Henry and Jojo Garza (the latter pictured above) were one of the only Western acts to open by yelling out, “Annyeonghaseyo!” Less to their credit, their audience at the time of that statement was about 70 percent white people.

Best Accidental Cameo – Liam Gallagher Drunkenly Stumbling Through the Stone Roses Crowd
The Beady Eyes bandleader and former Oasis guitarist caused a wave of Roses fans to swarm away from the stage and towards his drunken self as he stumbled to his large private black tent while security stood guard, looking visibly unimpressed.

Weirdest Quirk – Shady Crowd Control
A 29-year-old Canadian dude I met made the keen observation that the sun was so blazingly hot that weekend that wherever there was shade, there were people sitting in bizarre shapes, contorting to the shadows cast by the various stages and shuffling forward every five minutes to adjust to the sun’s movement. Hysterically accurate.

Best Dance Party – Glen Check
On the heels of their 2011 debut album, this Korean electro-rock group has some seriously catchy tunes. Listen to this track—or this one—or this one, even, and tell me that these tracks don’t sound like they were written to be hit singles. By the end of each song, everyone was jumping up and down, singing along to nonsense lyrics like “Take back the scene! Your vague recall!”

Biggest Waste of a Headlining Slot – James Blake
Blake’s a talented musician, perhaps best placed in a 4 p.m. slot at a festival for people to sit down and relax to. But giving the man 90 minutes on a party-centric Saturday night? Rather than stay awake while buddy jived out to his ambient lullabies for 20 minutes shorter than his allotted time, I took a nap. This man, passed out around an hour after Blake’s set, represents that snooziness.

Winner of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Lookalike Contest – Lee Jae-cheol of Monkeyz
With his goofy grin, shaggy hair and lanky frame, the boyishly adorable lead singer of Monkeyz is the spitting image of what GQ’s favorite celebrity would look like were he Korean. Bonus points for Lee’s flailing dance moves, which are presumably what inspired their band name.

Smartest Fashion – Wide-Brim Hats
Most of our necks weren’t so lucky to survive the striking sun, but many of the Koreans seemed prepared with straw farmers’ hats or sombreros (couple outfit above) that looked both practical and hipster-friendly enough to justify. Foreigners in Korea should take note.

Dude Who Had the Best Time During Motion City Soundtrack – This Guy
Never was there a more sincere thank-you than that of Justin Pierre, the pop-punk group’s lead singer, when he told the audience, “Thank you guys so much. This is so awesome,” to the point that he was giggling uncontrollably. In this journalist’s personal observation, Pierre was mostly referring to the above-photographed fan.

Most Deceptive Use of a Conga Line – The Owl City Moshpit
It started off innocently enough—Koreans jumping in a line, hands on shoulders, dancing to “Fireflies” and whatever other songs Owl City played while we were waiting for “Fireflies”. But follow the conga line and you’d quickly discover it dissolving into a grossly unjustified moshpit occupied by laughing Korean boys shooting water guns. The fuck, dudes—during Owl City?

Cutest Moment Nobody Saw – Lee Jung-ah

Lee is a quiet, sweet-voiced singer-guitarist who played the smallest stage on the final afternoon of the festival. During her rendition of “Desperado” by the Eagles, when she sang, “You gotta let somebody love you,” the 30-odd people who were there all simultaneously echoed the line (as per the original song) under their breath, but the moment was so quiet that you could hear everyone doing it. Lee did that very Korean thing girls do when they blush; that is, cover her giggle with her hand.

Most Unfortunate Blacking-Out – This Couple
Around 30 minutes before the Stone Roses, this destroyed couple could be seen near the beer tent closest to the main stage. Dude was so far gone his belly button was being used as a shot glass for a group of nearby bro-types doing shots of goddamn anything. Can’t tell who comes out worse in that situation, although the fact that the above-photographed dude now has a public photograph of him grossly passed out means it’s probably him.


Originally published on Busan Awesome.

A Weekend in Gwangju

IT SEEMS EVERY CITY in Korea has a ‘thing’—Pyongchang has skiing, Danyang has caves, Chongdo has bullfighting. City tourism officials tend to take these ‘things’ and clutch onto them with a vice grip; one sees billboards for the tea fields as soon as one enters Boseong, for example, or can’t help but be struck by the number of whale statues around Ulsan. Gwangju’s ‘thing’ is democracy—probably a nobler ‘thing’ than whales or tea—and no matter where you are in the city, they don’t let you forget it.

And then there are the trees. My god, the trees! Gwangju’s streets are lined with them. There’s even a really gorgeous river running horizontally through basically the whole city, and it’s kind of like Busan’s Oncheonjang River, except that it’s much wider, not hideously brown and met on the sides with wide swaths of stone, grass, plants and a comfortable biking/running path.

Check out the full guide on Busan Awesome. 


I DON’T PRETEND to be an especially well-versed traveler, but a recent trip inspired the question alluded to in this headline, and the resulting conversation, combined with my desire to write a blog post about just nearly anything, means that I’m going to culminate for you here 23 years’ worth of living into a couple hundred words and blurry photos downloaded from Facebook. Here they are, in no relevant order:

Masada, Southern District, Israel

Masada is a fortress on a mountain in a dessert, which sounds impressive because you gotta wonder how they a) built it and b) lived there during the first century, but then sounds even more impressive when you realize that the ol’ Israelites who climbed down and up the mountain for four hours every day they needed water were the same tribe being hunted by Romans and who later committed mass suicide when the Romans’ siege succeeded. The remains of the fortress are beautiful in a tragic way, and while the surrounding dessert is vast in its powerful glory, it’s unmistakably the closest I’ve come to literally baking myself in an oven.

Amsterdam canals, the Netherlands

When I say I want to live in Europe, a particular mental picture comes to mind: women in long dresses and men wearing ascots sipping expensive coffees out of those tiny cups you can’t slip your pinky through, all under the shade of lush green trees and sophisticated brick architecture, with someone romantic rowing a boat in the sun nearby. This is literally what I imagine Amsterdam is like all the time, based solely on my few days of being there when I was like 19 or something.  The thought that people are actually lucky enough to live there full-time is bewildering to me still.

Guinsa Temple, Guinsa, South Korea

I traveled to Guinsa this past January, on a solo vacation six months into my teaching here. It happened to be the first Sunday after the Lunar New Year, which explained the 8,000-odd Koreans crawling up and down the mountain complex in hanbok, traditional Korean clothes, and praying for up to 10 hours a day. I wrote a full piece on it for Busan Haps, but it isn’t up yet; an accurate summation, in a sentence, would be to note how indescribable was that 8 a.m. sunrise at the top of the valley, when met with the chanting of monks and the chirping of birds and quietude of the mountains beyond.

Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

Taroko Gorge is one of those unmistakably beautiful places, the kind of place that knows it’s gorgeous and just doesn’t have to try very hard. It’s a massive park of mountains and valleys, ripe with several painfully beautiful hiking trails of varying difficulties, and a tribe of native locals who stay away from the touristy spots but can sometimes be seen off keeping to themselves in the distance. As a bonus there are impossibly-built temples scattered throughout the entire thing, on the edges of cliffs and the tops of mountains and stuff, and when you look at them from below you’re struck both by how hard they must’ve been to create, as well as how obvious it is that this is the perfect spot for a Buddhist temple.

Taebaek Mountain, Taebaek, South Korea

Morning hikes are one thing, and snow hikes another, but little else I’ve experienced has made me feel simultaneously older and more virile than a snowy morning mountain hike. The air is very crisp and the amount one sweats makes one feel distinctly like his body alone could overcome any element. I didn’t reach the top because I was low on food and water, and also exhausted and wanted to watch the Snow Festival festivities by 10 a.m., but at a resting point halfway up a group of Koreans gave me chocolate and gimbap and it was really sweet.