Alien-Nation

It took me quite a while to figure out that—as a foreigner staying for more than 90 days—I need to register in order to enjoy the more fancy aspects of life in Korea (like opening a cyworld-account, soon to come…***). So I went to a place that sounds as if it came straight out of some Men in Black-nightmare: the Alien Registration Office.

Retrospectively, it seems mostly harmless, especially in comparison with what I heard about the German equivalent, the Ausländerbehörde. More poignantly, in Austria the same place is called Fremdenpolizei (“strangers’ police”). In fact this term is quite fitting, because that’s what it’s all about: making strange.

On a first look, the waiting room is like any other public office: waiting by numbers, despair in the face of formulas, and generally a rather bored atmosphere of random time killing. But the dullness is misleading—far from falling asleep, I glance around and perk up my ears.

I spy a missionary’s wife (how can she read a Korean paper, though?). I spy one more English teacher, routinely filling out his form (or maybe an army thug who fell in love with a local? probably a Canadian!) I spy a gyopo-family, back in the country of their fathers (would they have to come here?). I spy an “imported bride” from Vietnam (her ajossi is probably outside, smoking while crouching). I spy a German passport, in the hand of a freckled girl copying her credentials as eagerly as a secretary (probably a long-time intern at the Goethe-Institut). I spy a sweating guy, obviously not yet adjusted to the heat-wave that hits Seoul in the summer time, leaning forward as he touches his forehead, staring hard at his Korean textbook (level 4!), until no. 536 is called out.

I give my best: speaking Korean, listening closely, rebuffing undeserved compliments (can’t stop it), saying thanks and good bye as I leave, without looking back. In other words: Performing the Good Alien. I guess it is time to phone home (although it is night-time there).

— 19 July 2010 (月)

*** Errata: It is still there, a glittering room lost in time… go to www.cyworld.com/creutze and click on the “이곳을 클릭하세요.” (that’s “click here” in Korean) ! Don’t forget to leave a comment.

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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4 Responses to Alien-Nation

  1. gitte says:

    haha, only commenting because i like the Performing the Good Alien.

    you need to blog more.

    btw, are you still living in paris?

    • No, i’m not living in paris anymore—that was quite a while ago. I got interested in korean stuff back then in 2005 and a friend set up the mini-homepage for me. (I forgot the password, so i’ll have to get a new one, i guess…)

      And yes, i should blog more often. At the moment my homework-first policy does not leave me with much time, unfortunately…

  2. Soomi Kim says:

    Hi Jan, I found your website while searching for experimental theaters in Korea. I am doing some research on experimental theaters in Korea because I want to apply for a travel grant to study and observe what is happening in the theater scene there. I am a NYC based actor/performing artist. Can you please recommend some theaters and or their contacts/websites? I’d appreciate any guidance and help! This is new to me.

    Thank you,
    Soomi
    p.s. please reply on my email account or notify me of your response. Thank you!

    • Dear Soomi,

      thanks for commenting — I am always excited when I find out that someone actually reads my stuff.

      What exactly do you mean by ‘experimental theatre’?

      On the one hand there are a few ensembles that could be considered experimental in the otherwise more or less commercialized area of Daehangno (a quarter hosting several dozen private theaters). One possible start could be the “Street Theatre Troupe” (연희단거리패) which started as an ensemble critically experimenting with new, “Korean” approaches towards (mostly) Western classics but became kind of established with the success (www.stt1986.com).

      What I am most interested in are performances that include elements (stories, techniques, motives) from traditional music theatre, e.g. the production “Sacheon-ga” (사천가) by Lee Jaram (이자람), a retelling of Brecht’s Good Person of Sichuan in the style of pansori, epic singing-storytelling usually restricted to a classical canon of stories (http://pansoriza.blogspot.com/, not very much updated, though). Or, likewise, ‘new pansori’-ensembles like Badaksori (http://www.badaksori.com/) that use traditional singing styles to approach current affairs (e.g. the War on Iraq).

      Then there is the field of modern/’creative’ dance (which I do not know very much about), with numerous festivals and individual performances. I saw a few interesting choreographies of Korean ensembles (side-a-side with international dancers) at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (http://www.spaf.or.kr/) and also a show that presented ‘traditional’ dances along-side fusion forms at the 포스트극장 (“post theatre”, didn’t find a website, though). [I wrote a piece on four dance performances at SPAF in 2008, if you’re interested: http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?menu=c10400&no=383881&rel_no=1%5D

      Anyway, festival such as spaf might be a good start to get an overview on groups that could interest you. Also, there are countless festivals in the countryside (e.g. on mime or voice art) that usually feature international acts as well as Korean ensembles.

      As you see, I am still in the process of getting an overview — there is so much out there! If you tell me what interests you most, I might be able to give you more specific information.

      So far: best from Seoul, Jan

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