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By In essay

From K-pop to HI-pop

K-pop is Korea’s most visible and wildly successful export. The contemporary conception of K-pop — melodic dance jams with glitzy production and hip-hop sensibilities — was born in 1992 when the group Seo Taiji and Boys performed their song “Nan Arayo” on national television. A blend of dance-ready rhymes in the verses and smooth vocals on the hook, “Nan Arayo” is widely considered the first modern K-pop song. Within 15 years of its birth, K-pop would become a global multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s tempting to look at K-pop as a model for the Hawaiian music industry…

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By In essay

The Weight of Departure

I decided to swim in the storm.

After living in landlocked Seoul for four years, I refused to allow a measly tropical storm—the meteorological category right under hurricane—to ruin my weeklong vacation back home in Hawaii. Storm categories are determined by average sustained wind speed, and while tropical storms aren’t strong enough to peel roofs off houses, they do get names. This one in 2018 was assigned Olivia.

Officially, storms are named to clarify communication between scientists and everyone else, but the act of naming clarifies other things, too. Names become boundaries by which we see shape. Naming helps to make sense of powers unseen yet undeniably felt, forces like the wind that, until their inexorable exit, are in a perpetual state of arrival…

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By In basketball, essay

Basketball Taught Me How To Live

It happened again one night when my fiancée and I were walking home from work. One second we were side by side, mid-conversation about our days, and suddenly she was alone in the darkness. I dropped abruptly, as though I’d been hit by a sniper. Andrea took a few steps before noticing I was on the ground behind her. I was holding my right ankle and biting back curses into muffled groans.

It wasn’t my first sprained ankle. The pain was familiar, the procedure instinctive. I untied my shoelaces, then retied them extra tightly to put pressure on the impending swelling. I pushed myself upright and took a few cautious steps, finding the pavement with my heel before rolling the rest of my foot flat to the ground. I limped and hobbled the rest of the walk home. We looked like an elderly couple whose wish to return to their youth had been granted, but were still stuck in the fragile habits of old age.

There was no reason for the accident, and there were no mitigating circumstances. The pavement was smooth—no cracks or uneven surfaces, no loose rocks or tree roots breaking up the concrete. Nor was darkness an issue. Between streetlights, headlights from passing cars, and the insomniac fluorescence beaming out of storefronts, I could see just fine. I have only the boring excuse of physical frailty. I’m 30 years old…

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By In essay, Mixed Martial Arts

Joint Resolution

Shortly into his title fight against the most dominant champion in the history of the UFC, Henry Cejudo rolled his ankle. This was not any more helpful than it looks. Cejudo lifted his left leg to step forward but his foot didn’t cooperate, almost as if it were fighting the fact that he was in the cage against a man who had steamrolled him in half a round just two years prior. When he put his weight forward, Cejudo’s toe dragged on the mat. I will confess that I’m not sure what happened for the next 10 seconds or so because I was wincing in vicarious psychosomatic pain. When his ankle contorted the wrong way a second time, both painful experience and the sharp biting sensation in my ankle—a sympathetic pang from a not-dissimilar injury—told me it would be over soon. It had to be.

Ankles are strangely poetic as joints go. Athleticism in any sport that requires bipedalism depends almost entirely upon the flexible capacity of the ankle, without which fast-twitch agility and general explosiveness would be grounded in horizontal limits. Yet the ankle’s astonishing and vital functionality is also its vulnerability. Its ability to grant special, spectacular movement leaves it open to bend grotesquely in any number of opposite directions, to push too far past its natural range of motion. There is a safe sort of comfort in the stillness of a fixed joint. An ankle that’s doing too much is an ankle at risk…

Read more at The Classical

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By In essay, Korea, Mixed Martial Arts

The Main Event

 

Front and center was a cage where men would soon punch each other for money. Seats inside Seoul’s cavernous Olympic Hall wrapped around it on two levels: cageside VIP tables for the type of people who wear suits to a cage fight, and open seating above it for everyone else. Behind the cage was a ramp that led up to a theater stage set up with gear for a rock band. Above, a jumbo screen showed silent highlight videos of older matches on a loop.

A pre-fight promotional video started. Clips of knockouts played as the lights dimmed. Band members crept to their positions through the shadows while the video showed mean-mugging men holding up their fists. The video culminated with resounding, ear-splitting English: “Top FC! Fighting! Champion!”

The screen went blank. A row of mortar-like pyrotechnics shot flames upward from the edge of the stage, and the band started screaming over the sounds of their instruments. They sounded like the kinds of bands most kids listen to in high school but are now embarrassed to think about–except all in Korean.

It was exactly the type of campy, weird high-production values that I wanted, but as the music pierced the on-stage flames and echoed through the auditorium, I didn’t quite feel there. I didn’t quite feel anywhere…”

 

Read more at Left Hooks

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