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

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