Speaking my Language

gwangbak

What I’m saying is that, I’ve considered moving to Korea because I’m aware that at least my emotions have migrated there already. I became a super fan overnight which also, is dramatic in itself. When I say super fan, I mean of Korean culture itself. It all started unplanned on a weekend in June when I watched Korean Drama, ‘Wangs Family’ for the first time on very stuffy Sunday afternoon. Its grip on me was also as instant and close-fitting, as the heat. The sympatico of this unknown language became suddenly proverbial to me, a place for me to rest. Since I’ve entered this biosphere with such intrigue, it’s dented my psyche to the degree where I’m struggling to watch anything in English anymore, simply for the reason that I miss my Korean dramas during the working day, in a way that’s far from fleeting, but more the way you may miss your mothers homemade pancakes —with a wild urgency.

hobak

Korean dramas are as comforting as stretching your body in the early morning, or like that first sip of hot tea after a long day. It’s a clean cut, pleasant place to be, to simmer alone while snacking and to watch ‘Wang’s Family’ with the subtitles on. It’s a place that allows you to feel like your leaning on a beanbag, a place to perch over characters woes. Like when Subak apologizes to her family for single handily losing their home, or as her grandmother and mother heatedly discuss relevant family affairs that foreshadow the entire show. I’m emotionally invested when characters like Sangnam frets over his life troubles, like his lack of education when approaching Gwangbak’s family to propose marriage, and they ungracefully decline. I too, sit with the Wang family at dinner, cross legged on the living room floor of their home in Seoul, and consider the depth of their father’s voice, Bong Wang, as he scolds his adult children for not following the family motto of ‘putting yourself in the shoes of others.’ I wince when this sixty year old man, cries to his wife that he feels he has not raised his children well, when they all simultaneously disappoint him.

What I’m picturing is the intensity of Minjuing’s face in episode #6 where he looks as though may burst a vein in his neck, enduring his wife’s Subak’s Banshee like screams when she finds out he’s now bankrupt, proclaiming ‘‘How can I handle this?’’ Then, her further cries when they move to a small, cheap apartment where she clarifies that she regrets marrying him, and regrets their children ever being born even. And in her desperation, succumbs to using a chamber pot as a bathroom equivalent. Subak is a horror to watch, and her words though stinging, are also phonetic poetry to my English ears. The contraries in her tone when speaking Korean are as telling as moods, sharp sometimes, tapered at others, but always true to the situation. The drama however does not mask what the shows unshakeable purpose is —the capacity to understand and sympathize with your family at least, but above all to show respect to all.

It’s reflected in the show, this idea that throughout life, things happen, things made to clip our tolerance, and to ration our understanding. In Korea, it seems to be things like financial strain, marriage ideals and cultural norms that though dramatic, Korean dramas house the notion that we are highly aware anyway of life’s intensities and their effects. The events that transpire in Korean dramas, are real to Korean culture and eye opening to the western eye and ear. For example, if a character is upset, her distress is realistic because she is shown to be troubled in real time, for four, five, maybe even six episodes even.

wangs familyThese days, I could be at work, and hear down the corridor the faint hum of noises from an everyday conversation, and it will get me wondering about the honorific form; pronouns used in Korean, meaning politeness and humbleness. Ultimately, there’s something about the imagery of the side dishes, chopsticks and of the clean city of Seoul, about how you must bow when you see your parents and grandparents that rearranges me. Check out Wang’s Family Episode 1 below:

 

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‘‘It’s much funnier in Somali’’- Somali Entertainment and its Ingenuity

ololSomali films and on stage productions are integral to the rich history of the Somali arts culture, and entertainment industry. Not only the latter but these pictures are held very dear to many Somalis hearts. The striking bright, confident colors, the original singing voices and the on stage story-lines prove nostalgic for the older generations. Classic songs, memorable quotes and over exaggerated movement on stage, reinforces the originality and essence that resonates within Somali actors and actresses.  Far from organized, Somali productions have a chaotic nature, a rugged temperament which one cannot simply overlook; which you will and can only find in a Somali riwayad. This includes the classic old Somali style long microphone wire, the band onstage nowhere near the background, quite the opposite actually. They are often mesmerized or simply unmoving as if they were back stage. Then comes the awkward, sometimes noisy pauses between scenes in addition to the sometimes unintelligible sound quality. Nevertheless none of this deters us from watching, singing along and enjoying the stories, creating a space for these titles in our memories.

More exciting for the younger Somali generation is the growth of ‘Somaliwood’ which originated and developed in Columbus, Ohio wherein there exists a prominent, thriving Somali society. Production companies such as ‘Olol films’ (meaning flaming hot films) have gained success in America and the U.K with some great relatable titles. These films have been taken to, considerably well and their success has led to the production of even more great titles which has paved the way for the Somali communities worldwide to explore contrasting issues within their societies.

For example Rajo (meaning hope), is a depiction of American Somalis by Olol films, directed by Abisalaam Aato. This is quite a modern film, which tells the tale of Omar, a young Somali man who has settled in Columbus, Ohio. The film touches on numerous topics such as rebuilding lives once groups have fled Somalia to the west, American gang culture which young males statistically have become heavily involved in, sometimes unbeknownst to them as the film reveals. It also deals with the matter of employment, love/relationships and family. Integrally though, the recurring theme is hope of a better life which is the forthright meaning of the title. If first watched when it originally was released around 2009, this was an entertaining, funny and original plot that lacked the production funds which had the potential to make it great. The absence of dollars however gives the film a surprising charisma which Rajo possesses in abundance, predominantly due to the casting. If you are interested in similar storylines which involve themes of love, family and culture VS religion in Somali cinema, recommendations include Ismaqabato, Ali and Awralah and Flight 13 which focuses heavily on culture vs religion.

Flight 13 refers to groups of Somalis who arrived from Somalia pre 1997 and post 1997 to reinforce their newness and the film reflects this well. Other titles include the classic scary story of Araweelo adapted into ‘Xaaskayga Araweelo’, ‘Qabyo’ which is a play and ‘Qabyo 2’ which was made into a film. Also, ‘Gabar Haloo Doono’’ also produced by Olol films which centers on the bachelor lifestyle of two young Somali brothers who have settled in America and how difficult they find it dealing with their old fashioned mother coming to visit, who in turn cramps their style.

Somali movies are sadly mostly not copyrighted and distributed through homes on illegally downloaded copies as opposed to being distributed legally, which is why the industry is failing fiscally. It is no way due to lack of talent which clearly the industry is brimming with. However, it must be said that these films are not an accurate representation of all Somalis and is fiction after all. There sometimes appear exaggerated versions of a stereotypical Somali and clearly does not always represent everyone. However, they are found to be highly entertaining and the topics these stories delve into do resonate throughout our lives, which is why we can relate and appreciate them in our homes, surrounded by a family that just might remind you of that character on screen.