Tag Archives: music

“Like, what should we do this weekend?”

As an English teacher in South Korea, when Thursday rolls around each week I usually itch for my upcoming weekend plans. I have learned to take full advantage of my weekend time in Korea and I hope to continue with this new approach to my free time when I return home. I love the tired yet accomplished feeling of a Sunday night following a jam-packed weekend of experiencing new things and people in Korea. When I find myself without plans midweek, I use the following 5 resources to find inspiration for weekend outings. I hope you find them helpful and please feel free to comment with alternative ideas. I promise, armed with these resources you won’t find yourself uttering the annoying answer to a friend looking to have a memorable weekend, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

1) Expat Websites and News Sources: Some of my favorites include Groove Korea, Seoulistic, Chincha and 10 Magazine Korea, but there are many more. This past weekend I attended a rocking block party in Hongdae that was hosted by Chincha. I had a blast: I met some interesting people, enjoyed great live bands and had a bit too much fun with the prop-packed photo center. Today in 10 Magazine Korea I read about all the Halloween events happening in Seoul.

2) Twitter: Many of my friends continue to make fun of my Twitter obsession, but it has proved to be a helpful tool in Korea. Even if you don’t want to Tweet, if you follow the right people you can stay informed about events going on in Korea. I can thank Twitter for letting me know about the free Psy concert I attended a few weeks ago. Thanks Twitter.

3) Travel Groups: Before coming to Korea I remember how comforted I was to find a Facebook page for Adventure Korea. Because Korea is a popular place for foreigners, there are a handful of companies that focus on planning excursions for this demographic. I have gone on three trips with Seoul Hiking Group and I can not speak highly enough of these mini vacations. After a week of teaching it is lovely to go on a trip that is completely organized for you. Who didn’t love field trips when they were younger? I have seen some great places in Korea, including Jeju, and I have also met some great friends from all over Korea. When In Korea (winK) is another great website.

4) Personal Blogs: I did extensive research before making the decision to move to Korea to teach and I believe a majority of the helpful information came from personal blogs. I felt reassured reading about real experiences from real people living and teaching in Korea. I know each person has a different story to tell of their time in Korea, but there are many shared experiences that I have encountered in blogs. I remember finding an extremely helpful diagram of a Korean heating panel on a blog back in February when I was shivering and baffled by the 4 buttons near my light switch. I have a list of about 10 blogs that I check weekly. There are some talented bloggers in Korea who are informative and also put a creative and comedic spin on the Expat experience.

photo credit

5)  Facebook (of course!): Facebook is not just for procrastinating. Facebook has helped me stay in touch with other Chungdahm teachers who live in different parts of Korea. With the help of Facebook I was able to plan a Busan beach weekend to visit a few friends from teacher training. I can also thank Facebook for a handful of friends in my city of Uijeongbu. In the first few weeks in my new city I came across a Facebook group for foreigners. I joined the on-line community, attended a weekly ‘Waegook’ dinner that was advertised on the group page and walked away from the first dinner with new friends. The Facebook group is also a place where people post event invitations and community information.

These are just a few resources I use. Where do you go for answers when someone asks, “What should we do this weekend?”

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Korea Burn – Leave your wallet at home.

After spending a weekend at Korea Burn this September, I realized that although I have been in Korea for more than 7 months now, this country will continue to surprise me with each weekend excursion. On a Monday night my friend called an emergency meeting to persuade a group of us to ‘apply’ for last-minute Korea Burn tickets, Tuesday I enlisted the help of my co-teacher in purchasing a tent from a Korean website, Wednesday and Thursday night were spent texting my friends back and forth regarding our to-do lists of making matching costumes, finding glow-sticks and glitter and buying bug repellent and Friday night I found myself staring at an empty suitcase wondering what the heck one brings to a Burn.

Korea Burn was inspired by Burning Man, the annual festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. The festival in Nevada lasts for a week and includes art installations and performances inspired by the participants. The festival’s core values include participation, art, self-expression and experience. The festival in Korea lasted for only a weekend but everyone involved followed the main mission statement of Burning Man. The celebration centered around a constructed wooden man with arms open to the sky. The structure was set ablaze on Saturday night and this act brought all of the festival goers together to watch the fire show. The weekend participants were encouraged to follow these 10 principles:

1) Radical Inclusion

2) Gifting

3) Decommodification

4) Radical Self-reliance

5) Radical Self-expression

6) Communal Effort

7) Civic Responsibility

8) Leaving No Trace

9) Participation

10) Immediacy

(If you are interested, you can learn more at http://www.koreaburn.co.kr/)

I found the idea of ‘Gifting’ to be the most interesting. The organizers encouraged us to leave our wallets at home, or at least in our tents. How could a massive beach party of foreigners survive without the flow of cash? Even if we were willing to gift the snacks that we brought (soju soaked watermelon pieces cut into stars and hearts), could we really rely on strangers to bring the rest of the party supplies and also to be giving with them? I was amazed at how generous people were as soon as we arrived at Gijipo Beach on Saturday morning. As soon as we found a spot to pitch our tent (which is a story in itself – trust me), we changed into our Burn Costumes (Burn Costumes can be WHATEVER you want them to be, believe me, I saw it all.) and headed to the beach. One of my favorite gifting moments was when I traded an original poem for a crispy slice of bacon. It may have been the best piece of bacon ever. I think the rest of the weekend is best described with pictures. It was one of those weekends that will stay with me. And the fact that this took place in Korea is just icing on the cake. I traded a hand-knit scarf for this cake of course. Gifting is key.

 

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No Naps Allowed – Hamilton Hotel Pool in Itaewon

Just last week I was swimming under a waterfall on the island of Jeju and last night I contemplated turning the heat on in my apartment. The weather in Korea at the moment reminds me of the transition from summer to fall back home in New England. The change is quick and if you don’t take the time to look around and enjoy the last bit of summer it will be time for scarves and boots before you know it. Toward the end of August I found my ultimate summer escape in Seoul. I was always intrigued by the loud techno beats booming from the rooftop swimming pool at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, but I had yet to bring my bathing suit, towel and sunscreen with me to Seoul. Each time I exited the subway across from the hotel entrance this past summer I told myself I must plan a day to enjoy this infamous pool. Summer flew by and after some internet research I learned that the pool was closing after the first weekend in September, so I went to bed early and set my alarm on the last Saturday in August and ventured into Seoul the next morning to spend the day poolside.

My friends and I arrived in Itaewon a little after 11am and the pool party was already going strong. The pool was packed with swimmers and sunbathers positioned around the pool making it difficult to walk from one side of the deck to the other. I had imagined a day of lounging on a chair reading my book and listening to music from my headphones but these plans were immediately squashed. This was a pool party and one of the last of the summer so people were making the most of the day. We stored out bags in a locker, grabbed drinks and made our way to the pool. There was no room to lounge on the deck so we spent most of the day floating around the pool.

A DJ in the corner pumped out dance music and the pool guests danced, drank and swam away the day. I was impressed by the Korean women who easily maneuvered their way around the pool in skimpy swim suits and super high heels while many of the men continuously applied tanning oil to their buff bodies and strutted by each other making sure to flex and convey how much time they spent each week at the gym. The pool atmosphere was one I had yet to experience in Korea and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the entertaining show that was the pool party until the sun began to set and we were ushered out of the pool facility by the hotel cleaning staff.

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I only made it to the Hamilton Hotel Pool once this summer and I regret this statistic. The pool provided a great escape from the summer heat and humidity and it was easy to get to in Itaewon. If you are in Seoul next summer I recommend checking it out, but don’t bring a book or expect to take a nap poolside. There will be dancing and loud music and you will love it. Just consider yourself warned.

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Directions: At Itaewon Station (line 6) walk out Exit 3 and you will find the Hamilton Hotel directly to your right. The pool is on the 5th floor.

The pool is open from 10am-6pm most days during the summer. Arrive early if you want to rent a chair and secure a spot on the pool deck. You can also rent towels and lockers. The pool is closed on rainy days.

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Everybody (still) Wants To Rule The World, right? -Super!Sonic in Seoul-

I live for live music. A perfect night for me consists of a few friends, an awesome outfit, a cold beer and front row standing room at a concert, preferably one with a performer who doles out dance-worthy beats. As soon as I arrived in Korea I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Seoul is a hub of fantastic music venues. I snatched up Lady Gaga tickets for the first show of her Born This Way Ball in late April, I aced ‘KPOP 101’ when my friend brought me to an exclusive taping of Inkigayo in Seoul, I ventured out to Nami Island to dance with Korean hippies and listen to Jason Mraz sing sweet nothings in June and I jumped for joy when I realized I could attend Seoul’s Super!Sonic show in August. I originally thought I would have to miss the two day music festival because it was scheduled for mid-week (Tuesday and Wednesday) in Seoul, but I soon realized the Wednesday was not just any Wednesday, it was Korean Liberation Day, so I had the day off and attended my first mid-week music festival at Seoul Olympic Park.

Super!Sonic is the sister festival of Japan’s famous Summer Sonic. I missed the festival’s first day line-up (due to work) which included The Smashing Pumpkins, Gym Class Heroes, Idiotape, Soulwax and more. As much as I wanted to see The Smashing Pumpkins, Wednesday’s line-up impressed me with New Order, Gotye, The Vaccines, Tears For Fears and Foster The People. What was supposed to be another rainy and humid summer day in Seoul turned out to be surprisingly sunny and comfortable. My friend and I spent the day shuffling in an orderly fashion (that’s how it’s done in Korea) between two stages where bands performed back-to-back sets.

Music keeps me sane, and especially in Korea where you can sometimes feel a bit out of place, concerts remind me that (as corny as it sounds) we’re all in this MAD WORLD together. When I burst into song upon recognizing the familiar lyrics to my favorite Foster The People ballad, I was amazed that all the Korean fans were singing right along with me, and not just the chorus, they were belting out each lyric with passionate perfection. Just last spring I watched the same band rock out in downtown Boston, and I have to say the Korean fans proved to be the more enthusiastic bunch. They weren’t afraid to dance and show the band how much they loved their music. Although many of the bands confessed it was their first show in Korea, I am quite certain due to the lively and devoted Korean fans it will not be their last. If you’re in Korea next summer make sure to check out Super!Sonic, I promise it will be a perfect day in the land of kimchi: Grab some music-loving friends and your umbrella and raincoat (just in case) and enjoy a few cheap beers paired with an authentic collection of dance-inducing acts. Oh, and most importantly, get right up there in front of the stage. You WANT TO RULE THE WORLD, doesn’t EVERYBODY? (Tears For Fears references there, sorry if you didn’t catch them.)

Tears For Fears

Foster The People

Gotye

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Skype Me Maybe, I’m in Gangnam.

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photo credit

So, before Gangnam Style‘s PSY becomes even more of a household name outside of Korea, perhaps with help from Justin Bieber (hold on, I will get to that), I feel the need to blog about this song, well really, the video. I first viewed the viral video while I was laying in the top bunk of a hostel room in Taiwan during my recent vacation. It was late, but I couldn’t sleep and I was quietly enjoying the hostel’s free WiFi and using my iPad to scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I had been disconnected from all forms of social media for a few days (I recommend trying it) and I was itching to catch up on all that I had missed. All of a sudden I was bombarded with posts about the Gangnam Style video, so I clicked on a link and was sent to YouTube. Being on the top bunk with my luggage below, I had to manage without my headphones and I watched the video in silence. The silent video was spectacular, and you can’t say that about most music videos. I was unaware of how big PSY’s comeback hit was at that moment, but I found myself entertained and impressed by the singer’s outlandish dance moves and the bizarre places he chose to display his skills. The next morning I experienced the real thing. I set up my iPad for a public viewing and my travel companions circled around to watch Gangnam Style, this time at full volume. Then we watched it again. And then a few more times after that.

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photo credit 

Park Jae Sang, called PSY in Korea, is known for his entertaining and original dance moves and quirky sense of humor. Being from New England, I am proud to share that he is a Berklee College of Music graduate. Gangnam Style, from PSY’s 6th album, was released on July 15, along with the video. The song instantly became a K-Pop sensation, but what was interesting was that the video saw 2 million hits in just 5 days. The song itself is, from what I gather, about the swanky and affluent Gangnam district in Seoul, particularly the women in this area. The idea is that the women are proper and appropriate during the day, but they also know how to enjoy a good party come nightfall. Some translated lyrics (below) help in the understanding of PSY’s words:

A girl who is warm and humanle during the day

A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee

A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes

A girl with that kind of twist

Throughout the video PSY dances his way through Gangnam. He parties in a bus, shimmies on the subway, gallops with his now famous “horse-riding dance” through a stable, distracts women practicing yoga, entertains onlookers in a pool and has a dance-off in a deserted parking garage, just to name a few. Among others, ABC and CNN have shown interest in the viral video and the well-known media blog Gawker.com wrote on July 30: Did This Underground Hip Hop Artist from South Korea Just Release the Best Music Video of the Year? Twitter blew up with tweets about the video and the artist’s work received praise from fellow musicians. T-Pain (@TPAIN) tweeted: “Words cannot even describe how amazing this video is.” and Josh Groban (@joshgroban) told his followers: “It’s a Gangnam Style world, we’re just living in it. Amazing video.”

Just yesterday, as I bonded over a popsicle and pop music with a student at my school, the topic of PSY came up, as it should. “He will sing with Justin Bieber!” the girl proudly announced. I almost fell off my swivel chair. She was so excited, so I went along with the story and waited to Google the claim’s validity at a later time. I understood Gangnam Style‘s popularity in Korea and the video’s few days of world-wide fame, but I was surprised to learn that PSY will in fact meet with Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, while he is visiting the US in the near future. Perhaps a PSY/Justin Bieber collaboration is in the future, or maybe Bieber is just a huge fan and is looking to learn more about Gangnam Style from the source itself. All I know is that Braun and Bieber were responsible for signing Carly Rae Jepsen, and we all know (whether we like it or not) how that went down. Skype Me Maybe, I’m in Gangnam.

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We all deserve a ‘Spring Break’, yes even you. *Mud Festival*

The closest I came to a proper Spring Break in college was a week spent at my friend’s grandmother’s condo in Naples, Florida. We lounged on the beach reading books and soaking in the sun and we couldn’t help but overhear the older women surrounding us discussing the newest Dancing with the Stars scandal and which new sandwich recipe they were attempting for their golfing husband’s lunch packs. It was a fantastic week: we somehow scored a few Coronas, watched Lost on an old comical TV that distorted the characters heads, slept 9+ hours each night and bonded over the silly experience of living among the retirees of America. It wasn’t the Spring Break you see in the movies, but it was an escape from the reality of college exams and the bitter cold of northern NY. The Boryeong Mud Festival has been called the ‘Spring Break for foreigners in Korea’, and although I consider myself well beyond (gulp!) my college years, or at least maybe a tad bit more mature and less likely to party more nights of the week than not, I did itch to experience this alternative Spring Break – with a Korean twist of course.

The annual festival takes place each summer in Boryeong, a few hours south of Seoul. The first Mud Festival took place in 1998 and now more than 2 million people travel to the 2 week long celebration of mud. The mud is trucked into the Daecheon beach area from surrounding mud flats and is dumped into pools and wrestling pits, painted onto bodies, poured down slides and sold in popular mud cosmetics. My friends and I traveled with an organized group from Seoul and we arrived late Friday night, the night before the first official day of the festival. We slept for a few hours and were woken by our group leader at 8:30am with a breakfast bowl of watermelon soaked in soju (If you ask me, it was more like soju soaked in some watermelon…). We tried to shake our morning grogginess as he taught us silly Korean phrases and encouraged us to finish our nutritional breakfast. A half hour later we were dressed in our swim suits, no longer sleepy, maybe a bit buzzed, but ready to get dirty.

Saturday was a blur. I had a blast: I got muddy racing through obstacle courses, wrestling and slipping down steep muddy slides, swam in the ocean, drank a few too many beers + soju, ran into many foreigner friends from all over Korea and danced to a live DJ in a muddy mosh pit on the beach. As much fun as Saturday was, I woke up on Sunday ready to return to Seoul and take a real shower. Mud Festival was fantastic but I couldn’t imagine surviving an entire week of the Boryeong craziness. We dressed in our dry clothes and went to find our bus to head home. Walking back through the festival grounds I came across an older couple caked in mud, beers in hand and smiling all over. I asked to snap a photo of them and they gladly posed for my camera. Later on the bus as I scrolled back through my pictures the couple’s shot stood out to me and I realized they were enjoying their own Spring Break in Boryeong. We all need a Spring Break every once in awhile: a day or two to let loose and forget your age and your smart phone in the hotel room (It will get muddy if you bring it, I promise).

Breakfast of Mud Festival

Reunited with a friend from college!

Time to swim –>Daecheon Beach

I hope this is me in 40 years.

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Ok ok I admit it, I caught the K-Pop bug.

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(picture of K-Pop group 2NE1 from http://www.mcmbuzz.com)

Go ahead, try and move to Korea and remain completely untouched by K-Pop. Good luck.

K-Pop is an abbreviation for Korean pop or Korean popular music. It is a genre consisting of dance, electronic, electropop, hip hop and R&B (wikipedia.org) and unless you never leave your apartment you will experience K-Pop in Korea. K-Pop will become the soundtrack of your life, whether you like it or not. The K-Pop culture has expanded far beyond Ipods and music videos, the fans have created a culture of their own and it feeds daily into Korean fashion, advertisement and conversation. I have no intention of pronouncing myself a K-Pop fanatic or expert, but I feel I must admit I caught the K-Pop bug this past weekend. It wasn’t an all-consuming bite, but it’s there, I can feel it.

Jeff Benjamin wrote earlier this year in Rollingstone, “K-Pop is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop, which preys on listeners’ heads with repeated hooks, sometimes in English. It embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals.” If you’re not in Korea at the moment do not panic. K-Pop has already gone global. I remember when I was busy packing for my year abroad and educating myself about Korea (basically Googling my heart out), my research was bombarded with K-Pop news of upcoming US tour dates. Benjamin’s Rollingstone pieces is appropriately titled ‘The 10 K-Pop Groups Most Likely To Break in America’ and Vampire Diaries stars Nina Dobrev and Kat Graham tweeted obsessively about their love for the K-Pop group 2NE1 back in 2011 (http://www.mcmbuzz.com).

I was invited by a fellow friend to ‘some sort of K-Pop show’ (that’s what I got from the conversation) in Seoul on Sunday. He possessed 5 exclusive tickets to the show and if I knew anything about K-Pop I would have realized just how amazing this invitation was. I did not have Sunday plans and was excited to spend time with my friends doing something ‘free’ in Seoul, so I accepted the offer and skipped my usual Sunday sleep-in session and opted instead for a day of K-Pop education.

As we made our way into Seoul I was briefed on the upcoming event. We were headed to a taping of the Korean show, Inkigayo, produced by the SBS network and broadcast in the SBS Open Hall in Seoul. The show airs live every Sunday and presents viewers with many of the most recent and popular artists making appearances and usually performing their newest singles. We arrived at the SBS building long after hundreds of K-Pop fans had set up camp in line hoping to gain access inside to watch the show. I felt like a celebrity pushing my way past the crowds up to the front where we were ushered inside. My mother never let me skip school to carpool with friends to NYC with glitter banners and homemade t-shirts to scream outside the MTV studios in hopes of being part of the taping of TRL (Total Request Live), but I can imagine it would be a similar experience.

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(sorry, no photos were allowed inside, but this was outside in front of a truck advertising for the K-Pop group Super Junior)

The show started soon after we took our seats up front. The production team scrambled to make sure the stage, lighting and sound were set to go and they began the show with an introduction of the hosts, similar to TRL. The entertainment moved at a quick pace and I was impressed with how many live performances Inkigayo packed into the show. I was star-struck even though I really could not distinguish one group from another. I sensed from the crowd’s reaction how famous each group was. I did recognize many of the songs from my everyday life activities of grocery shopping, watching commercials and interacting with my students. The dance moves were impressive, the lyrics catchy and easy to remember, the fashion over-the-top and the fans endearingly loyal and on cue with their group chants and cheers. I left the SBS building feeling like I understood Korea a bit more, like I had been let in on some big secret. Later that night I went to dinner with a few friends back in Uijeongbu far away from the pop stars and cameras. At one point I found myself singing along to a song playing quietly in the corner of the restaurant. Yeah, I caught the bug, have you?

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