Friday, April 19, 2013

8 months

Eight months have passed since I first arrived in Korea, and sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday I was getting off the plain at Incheon airport. Talks of renewal has started, and word on the street is that we have about 10 days to confirm if we will stay or leave. I have an open class this coming Tuesday, I'm not sure if my school was aware of the renewal timeframe when they scheduled it, or if it's just a coincidence, but knowing that my performance during the open class will be fresh in my supervisors minds whenever they fill out the renewal paperwork puts extra pressure on me. I'm still 50/50 on wether I want to really stay or not, but I at least want to have the option of staying rather than being told  I'm an awful teacher and be given the boot.

Life in Korea is going on as normal, I know for a while the foreign media had a field day reporting the possibility of a North Korean attack on the South, and to be honest, there were times when I was scared and questioned if maybe I should be taking things a bit more seriously, but when it came down to it, the stress I experienced during those weeks were not because I was scared about a possible attack, but because my mum kept herself glued to CNN and would constantly message or call me to check if I was okay or try to convince me to flee and return home, every time she did that I had to calm her down and explain to her that everything was okay. I'm not sure if North Korea is still talking about launching their missiles, or if the media has found something else to talk about, but for the time being the panicked calls and messages from friends and family abroad have stopped.

It's early Saturday morning in Seoul now, last night I was too exhausted so I laid down for a short rest at about 8 p.m. before meeting some friends, but oops, I ended up sleeping straight through the night and didn't wake up until 7 a.m. this morning. I had planned to go to a soccer match today, but It's raining, so I'll probably find an indoor activity to partake in instead.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

KTO Welcome Party

A couple of months ago I joined a community named K-Performance supporters, hosted by the Korean Tourism Organization (most commonly known as KTO). Basically, they provide selected foreigners with entry into various cultural events, such as: festivals, dinners, tours, and music concerts in exchange for us blogging about it, and promoting the event on our various social media outlets. The "ambassadors" as we are called, come from all over the world, so my main reason for joining was to branch out of the comfortable nest I've made for myself with my fellow teacher friends and meet new people, and of course, to experience Korean culture in a way I might not be able to on my own.

This past Friday, April 5th, the KTO hosted a welcoming party for season 2 (my group) and a thank you party for those who had participated in season 1. For this event we were able to bring a guest, so I invited a friend of mine who is also really interested in Korean culture. The event was being held at the Gangnam K-Pop Concert Hall, which is a good hour away from where I live, so I made my way there promptly after school and met my friend at the subway station. The email invitation we received stated that snacks would be provided while we mingled with each other and then the performance would start. So you can only imagine my surprise when I arrived at the venue and realized that the "snacks" consisted of an elaborate buffet dinner, complete with wait staff and fancy tableware. A few of the items the buffet included were: sushi, steak, salad, pastries, bulgogi, and soups.

After everyone had finished their meal, some important people from the KTO went on stage and introduced themselves, most of the speeches were given in Korean so I'm not sure of what was said, but if I had to guess I would say they were introducing the role of the ambassadors and thanking us for attending.. maybe? When the speeches ended, members from season 1 were invited on stage and one past blogger was awarded 500,000 Korean Won (roughly $450 USD) for going above and beyond his blogging duties. After the award was handed out, we were all brought on stage for group photos and mingling. I met some girls from the US whom are currently studying at Korea University, so it made me feel a little bit old, but happy to meet new people just the same.

Once the dinner, greetings, and picture taken were over we were handed tickets to a K-Pop performance and made our way to the third level of the facility. When we walked in, we quickly saw that there was a stage set up with chairs for an audience, lights going and music playing full blast to set the mood. It was a very intimate setting, and before long, the first act took the stage. It was composed of three girls, two of whom played a traditional Korean instrument and one girl who was the lead singer. Unfortunately, I don't recall the name of the group, or the exact name of the instrument that they played but it was enjoyable either way. They blended traditional music with modern day synthesizers, and bass to really amp it up. So after the opening act, there was a series of other Kpop groups, some all girl groups, some all boys, and one or two of mixed genders. None of the groups who performed were groups I recognized, but the friend I brought along seemed to know a couple and explained that they were either rookies (still in the early stage of their development) or just groups who had been around a while but hadn't really managed to take off.  Everyone who performed was very energetic though, and talented in their own way. The highlight of the performance for me was the group of Bboys that took the stage, and really got the crowd excited.

The performance lasted around an hour to an hour and a half, and then the event had come to a close. At the end of the performance I was expecting some sort of acknowledgement that indeed the show was over, and a thank you for coming have a safe journey home, but instead we were just left sort of wondering if there was someone else coming next or if we were free to go. Eventually people started getting up to leave, so my friend and I followed suit.

All in all, it was a very generous event prepared by the KTO and I'm very thankful that I was able to attend and share the experience with a friend, and now you guys reading this. I think that Korea goes above and beyond to make foreigners, be it tourists or expats, feel welcomed and comfortable. The venue of the welcome party was clean, easy to locate, and staffed with very friendly and helpful people. The food was one of the best I've had since moving to Korea seven months ago, and of course, having the opportunity to experience a live K-pop performance in such an intimate setting was very special.

After the welcome party, I am even more excited to be able to attend more KTO events and share those experiences with you!

Below are some photos I snapped. I was too busy enjoying the food and atmosphere that I forgot to take many, plus I only had my cellphone with me but I hope you can still get a good feeling for what I saw that night :).

One of the Kpop groups
With my friend L, and new friend.

Kpop performance stage

K-Performers Season 2 alumni

My company during dinner

Dining hall

Delicious sushi

My friend enjoying the delicious food

Friday, April 5, 2013

Yes sir, I'm one of a kind.

After failing to get tickets for Big Bang in January, and two failed attempts at obtaining tickets to G-Dragon's One of a Kind Solo Tour I was beginning to think I would never get to see a KPop concert. Luckily, on the third night of ticket sales, I was able to get two tickets to the opening show of G-Dragon's solo world tour.

On Saturday, March 30th along with other thousands of fans, I made the pilgrimage to Seoul Olympic Park and anxiously awaited the start of the show. When I first arrived, I had to get in a long line to pick up the tickets, then another line and exchange tickets for a wrist band, and lastly, I had to get in line to get into the venue. Even though the area was crazy busy with vendors and fangirls, everything seemed to go quite smoothly. When it was time to line up to enter the venue, we lined up according to ticket number so I got to go in pretty fast. This was my first time attending a big Kpop show in Korea so I really wasn't sure what to expect. When I bought the tickets I was given a section and seat number, so I assumed I would have a seat. When my friend and I actually walked into the venue though, we soon realized that somehow we had gotten seats in the standing section! We were quite surprised and not sure how things would work out, but we were in the section to the right of the stage and at any given point we were not more than 20 feet away from GD. Almost right before the show started my friend and I noticed that the the people who were standing beside us started taking their cameras out and snapping photos of someone in the crowd. We later found out that the person who had been making her way to our area was a very famous Korean actress named Han Ga In, and neither my friend and I knew who she was so we shamelessly looked her up in google. I was very surprised to find a celebrity standing amongst the crowd and wanting to enjoy the concert just like everyone else. I always thought it would be more convenient for them to watch from a VIP area or behind the stage, since the crowd was all over her. I felt bad, my friend and I kept joking that the safest place for her to be was right next to us since we didn't know who she was and weren't interested in snapping hundreds of photos of her.

Finally, the time we had all been waiting for finally arrived. I was already really excited to see him perform live for a longer time, since when I saw him at the Seoul Music Awards earlier in the year he had only performed two songs with the rest of his Big Bang mates. He started out the concert by performing for the first time his new single titled 미지 Go (Go crazy). The crowd went crazy, and the bass was heavy pumping energy throughout the entire song. The concept for this single seems to be on pair with the title, and I'm really looking forward to it. Immediately after 미지 Go, G-Dragon jumped into one of his older, but still quite popular songs Heartbreaker. He went on for about another 3 songs before pausing briefly to introduce himself. Wherever he went, the standing crowd followed, and at times I didn't think I would manage being squished for two hours, but luckily my friend and I were able to move around a bit and position ourselves in a space that wasn't so bad.

Even though G-Dragon was performing alone in quite a large stage, it never felt empty. He was able to move around, weave in and out of things and make his fans feel like he was interacting with them one on one. His stage presence is definitely one of a kind. During the fourth song he performed Light it Up in which Tablo of Epik High joined in, followed by The Leaders which brought out CL of 2ne1 to perform with him. The last guest performer came about halfway through the show, when label mate Lee High joined him in singing Without You. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the guest performances with the exception of Lee High. In general, I just am not a fan of her music/voice, but after seeing her live I also am not a fan of her as a performer. She didn't smile, and didn't engage with the crowd or even GD; she just kind of stood there with a blank expression on her face and sang.

As the concert was starting to wrap up G-Dragon performed his hit single Crayon and Big Bang's Fantastic Baby. To be honest, when Fantastic Baby started playing I was expecting TOP or Taeyang to surprise us and join him on stage, but he sang all of the parts himself, even playfully mimicking TOP during his part. After Fantastic Baby he disappeared off stage and then returned for an encore by weaving in and out of the crowd and singing Breathe. After his encore performance he paused for about 10 minutes to talk with the crowd. I don't speak Korean, but what I have gathered from reading posts on the internet is that he thanked everybody involved in the process of preparing for the tour, his parents, band, and of course his fans. After that I really thought the show was over because he looked exhausted (I later found out that the poor boy had been battling a bad cold during both Seoul concerts), but he surprised his fans by finishing off the concert by performing his new single one more time.

 Overall, the entire concert experience was memorable. The Korean and international fans went above and beyond to show support for G-Dragon not only as an artist, but as a person. Despite the large crowd, YG did a great job managing things and keeping everything running smoothly, and G-Dragon put on a terrific show! If he decides to wrap up his tour the same way Big Bang did, and having a final concert in the place where it started, I hope I'm still in Seoul and can attend so I can relieve the memories and perhaps see how different the first show is from the last. 

The venue had really strict rules against taking video/photos, so here are the few I managed to snap before/after the show.

G-Dragon closing out the show

Exciting the venue
Crowd exiting the venue