Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Stay Tuned

If I thought British people were a little too obsessive about their television, they have nothing on the Koreans. Clearly people here work long hours, and shop workers - who may be full-time or incredibly, doing extra shop work after their office jobs - may need the distraction of a television to give them some entertainment between customers. It's still surprising though that not only small family run businesses will have a TV constantly on in their shops, but even larger businesses feel the need to place an obligatory screen within their premises. I've never seen an opticians or restaurant with a TV on in the UK.

Ironically, despite this obsession, the prevalence of high definition here, and Korea being the home market of the likes of LG and Samsung, most TV reception seems to be incredibly poor. I could understand it if these were terrestrial broadcasts - all the mountains and high rise buildings would explain it - but it even seems to be the case with cable. I don't think it's just because I'm used to PAL rather than the inferior NTSC, because a lot of it just seems to be an inability to tune in to a good signal.

I've noted that when I spend any length of time in a larger store the resident television manages to find its way onto an English channel with Korean subtitles, which is a bit eerie really. In an opticians I was in, they calmly flicked through the stations to find something that presumably I would find interesting. That's a nice gesture but I'd have been quite happy to stare out of the window rather than endure 20 minutes of forced Cosby Show watching. I was with Korean mother when this happened and she earned my envy by falling asleep. Thus Bill Cosby struck out in two languages on that one.

The content is also a bit of a shock. I was a bit surprised on my third day here to discover Korean father watching a crime drama at seven in the morning - how tame can that be I thought at the time. But from the violent content it quickly became clear there's no watershed here of any kind so it probably wasn't. Later that day I was just about to eat lunch while briefly paused on some historical drama, when I was taken aback by a spontaneous burst of violence which saw a man's speech cut short mid-flow by a sudden sword swipe through both cheeks and open mouth. It wasn't what you expect to see at one in the afternoon.

A couple of days ago I watched a tamer-looking channel where the presenters and audience amused themselves playing with a dog and a large parrot. There was much talking and laughter in the style of bland-family-oriented early Saturday evening British TV, but things took a more sinister turn when the parrot bit the dog after some encouragement from one of the presenters, which following a couple more bites encouraged the dog to retaliate. Screams of laughter from the audience echoed round my apartment as I hit the channel button to move to anything else, but I still have the mental picture of the animals rolling viciously around the floor in the brief instant it took me to hit the remote.

We get CNN on the local cable service our apartment, and a few other English language channels with Korean subtitles. Some show fairly recent Hollywood movies but since we seem to have to buy a paper to find out what's on so we won't bother. NHK is also available but unfortunately I need to learn Korean now, not Japanese.

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