Friday, 9 March 2018

Discovering Dongdaemun After Dark!

The Dongdaemun Shopping District in Seoul is one of the most popular areas to visit. Why? Shopping! Of course!

Although the Myeongdong alleys offer various cosmetic shops, fashion outlets, and a food alley, these are mostly for those who wanted convenience as these are all located in one location.

The Dongdaemun shopping malls, on the other hand, are mostly scattered around the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and are on different buildings. But what Myeongdong does not offer, Dongdaemun does! Shopping till morning!

Yes, while some shops and markets in Dongdaemun are open during daytime, the shopping really comes alive after dark!
               (Therese and friends discovering 
                      Dongdaemun after dark)

So, when my friend Therese, a former Seoulite, came to Korea for a quick visit last week, I told her I’d tour her around Dongdaemun. I had toured friends around Itaewon and at the Dongdaemun bag market at night before. So, this would be another fun night tour!

After their dinner in the nearby Namsan area, Therese, who’s from Oregon, brought along her other friends: Gail from Toronto, Yuna from New York City, Isabel from Paris, Jane from Shanghai, and Mitsuka from Tokyo!

Going to Dongdaemun, we simply boarded the blue bus from the Beotigogae area, where they had dinner, had a short bus ride, and got off at Gwanghuidong Bus Stop, one stop before the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park bus stop.
                    (Waiting for the blue bus!)

Here was our Dongdaemun tour trail:

Said to have been constructed in 1396 during the fifth year of King Taejo, Gwanghuimun is a gate which served as one of the eight gates of the old city. This was destroyed during the Imjin War of the 16th century. In 1975, restoration of the gate was done.
                    (Gwanghuimun after dark)

Since Gwanghuimun is hidden away on a quiet corner among shops, ordinary tourists to Dongdaemun are usually not able to spot this historical gate. But that night, I made sure Therese and her friends were able to discover this ancient gate.

LED white flowers of Dongdaemun Design Plaza
From Gwanghuimun, we made our way to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). I told them that this site was an old baseball stadium but is now a unique space for designers and artists, where they can sell, market, and exhibit their designs and creations. DDP was designed by the late Zaha Hadid, a world-renowned architect.
          (The ladies at the LED flower garden)

But unfortunately, it was late when we got to DDP. So, we moved around the DDP and discovered the unique, white LED flowers scattered around the landscape.  A few years back, these 20,000 LED white flowers were ‘planted’ at the southeastern corner of DDP, but they have since been re-planted on a different side.

The ladies joined other tourists and visitors posing next to the thousands of white flowers that lighted up the garden landscape behind the DDP.

Dongdaemun Night Shopping!
And as I told them, the shopping came alive after dark! From the outside, you’d see these brightly lit buildings with colorful neon signs and unique names. But inside, it was a controlled chaos of sorts where local and international shoppers swarmed around shops selling clothes and accessories fashionistas would kill for.

These shops are mostly owned and run by the Korean designers themselves, and most floors of the buildings are all populated by these fashion shops.
         (Inside a Dongdaemun shopping mall)

Outside the buildings, we noticed delivery men gathered and hauled huge plastic packages that were probably meant for online customers.

Cheonggye Stream
It was almost midnight when we capped our Dongdaemun night tour with a visit to Cheonggye Stream, which was right next to the shopping district.

We made our way down the stream for more photos. We were surprised that, even though it was late, there were a lot of people walking through the stream to exercise or walk their way home towards the eastern side of the city.
                (Isabel and Therese dropped by 
                      the Cheonggye Stream)

Yes, shopping is not the only night tour Dongdaemun offers. If you’re in Dongdaemun, make sure you don’t limit your visit to the shopping arcades and malls. There’s the Gwanghuimun, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and the Cheonggye Stream!

Therese and her friends had fun discovering Dongdaemun after dark. You should, too!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Our Fun Day @ The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics!

Seven years ago this month, I wished Pyeongchang the best of luck in its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics!

And now, it is actually happening!

That year, way back in 2011, when Pyeongchang was finally awarded the right to host the Winter Olympics, I wasn't even sure if I'd still be here in Seoul. But now, it's here and so am I!
I was still in the Philippines when the opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympics were held. I was able to watch Michael Martinez (figure skating) and Asa Miller (alpine skiing) of the Philippine team enter the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. I was finally able to fly to Seoul a few days after that and got to enjoy the Olympic atmosphere in Seoul as well as in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, where some of the ice events are being held.

Free Ride to Pyeongchang
Thanks to our friend Gail, she was able to book Rosie, Sarah, Janice and me free seats (with free breakfast!) using the from Seoul to Gangneung and back early this week. The arenas of the Olympic sports held on ice like curling, figure skating, speed skating, and ice hockey are all in Gangneung City.

The free ride is sponsored by generous Korean companies for those who want to visit the Olympic venues. Gangneung City is the economic center of Gangwon Province, which Pyeongchang Count is a part of.

Our ride left at 9AM and arrived at the Gangneung Station at noon; we left Gangneung at 5PM and arrived at the Seoul Plaza at 8PM with one toilet stop each along the way. The van seats seven passengers, and our ride was smooth and fun, especially if you're traveling with friends! Thanks to, it seemed like we rented our own chauffeured van!

The Olympic Rings @ Gangneung Station
You don't need to go that far to have a memorable photo souvenir at the Pyeongchang Olympics! Right after our arrival, the Olympic Rings by the Gangneung Station welcome everyone to the Olympics with its five colored-rings representing Africa (black), Asia (yellow), Europe (Blue), the Americas (red), and Oceania (green).

In front of the rings, there were young, helpful, English-speaking volunteers who managed the queue and helped take your photos!

Gangneung Olympic Park
Getting to the Gangneung Olympic Park was a short ride on board TS22 bus. The organizers made sure the visitors to the Olympics have convenient transportation to and from the Olympic Park. But getting into the park itself was a challenge as there could be a very long line just to buy tickets. So, it is recommended that you buy your entrance tickets (KRW2,000) online before heading there. Otherwise, you may have to resort to getting entrance tickets at more expensive prices.
   (The happy tourists got their entrance tickets!)

As we only had less than five hours in Gangneung, we simply moved around the Olympic Park, visited the pavilions, posed outside the Olympic arenas, and soaked in the Olympic atmosphere. By the way, the food courts at the park only sold fast food and drinks.
If you want to buy some Olympic merchandise, be prepared to queue as the Superstore in the park limits the number of people inside.
Canada House
Just right before the entrance to the Gangneung Olympic Park is the Canada House (or Olympique Maison du Canada). It's a hang-out place for Canadians and fans of Canadian teams at the Olympics. Luckily, our friend Rosie was able to register us to enter the Canada House. For a fee, we were able to enjoy the fun atmosphere inside the venue, where they have a big screen, indoor bleachers, and tables, where fans can enjoy the events over beer, burger, poutine, salads, and other Canadian delights. You can also get Canadian Olympic merchandise inside.
     (Watching the Shibutanis at Canada House)

For us, we made Canada House our comfortable lunch place where we were able to sit down outdoors (they have a fireplace if it gets too cold) and enjoyed the Olympic experience Canada-style! 
I was able to enjoy a Canadian burger with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir staring at me from a magazine. 
We met Cam and Daniel Galindo, brothers from Stoney Creek in Ontario, who were there at Pyeongchang as volunteers. Cam was also a volunteer at the Rio Olympic Games! How cool is that?
                    (Inside Canada House)

And as if the gods of Mount Olympus were watching us enjoy our Olympic trip, we got to meet an Olympic gold medalist! Gabrielle Daleman, a Canadian figure skater, already won gold at the figure skating team event. Gabby was also competing at the ladies' figure skating event a couple of days later. I wondered if we had visited another day, we could have met Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir!
How we wished we could have stayed longer at the site, but unfortunately that day, we had a free van ride to catch! We decided to traverse a small hill going back to Gangneung Station as the bus line going back there was too long. It only took us less than 20 minutes on foot to get there.

Olympic Fun!
So, if you haven't been to the Pyeongchang Olympics, make sure you get there in time for the closing ceremonies. Or, you can always head down there for the Pyeongchang Paralympics starting on March 9.

Some tourists who wanted to stay longer at PYeongchang Olympics book hotels or sleep at the local jjimjilbang overnight as it is far from Seoul, just like waht our Canadian friend Bruno did when he missed his KTX ride back to Seoul.Yes, the event site of the Pyeongchang Olympics is far from Seoul.

So, it was indeed a fun day for us at Pyeongchang Olympics! Who knows? We may go back there again another day!

And to all the Olympic medalists and Olympians, congratulations and enjoy the closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympics!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

It's More Fun @ Iloilo City's Dinagyang Festival!

'Dagyang' is a Hiligaynon word that means to have fun! And this festival in Iloilo City (where Hiligaynon is spoken) in the Philippines is all about having fun!

After decades of not having attended the Dinagyang Festival, my sister and I crossed the Iloilo Strait from Bacolod City, and stayed for three nights to enjoy the Dinagyang.

We stayed at a small business inn near the center of the city, which was very convenient. The Freedom Grandstand, the San Jose de Placér Church, Roberto's, Iloilo Public Market, and the Ortiz Wharf were all walking distance! It was fun and convenient!

The Dinagyang Festival is more like a spin-off from Kalibo's Ati-Atihan Festival. It is also a celebration of Panay Island's history and culture.

Back in the 1200's, ten datus from Borneo sailed and landed in Panay Island to seek refuge. They asked the local aeta (or 'ati' in the local language) tribes to let them live in the low lands of the island. The local aeta tribes agreed, and in exchange, the ten datus from Borneo, led by Datu Puti, gave the chieftain of the ati tribes a golden salakot and other valuable ornaments and fabrics, including a legendary golden necklace that was so long it reached the grown when worn.

                            (Tribu Obrero)

The highlight of the Festival is the ati-atihan competition among several tribes represented by local high schools. It is held on the last day of the festival.

These tribes were judged during the competition on their choreography, performances, costumes and other criteria. But since we were staying along the parade route, we simply waited for the tribes to pass.

 (Tribu Abiador represented the Asian College of Aernautics. 'Abiador' is the Ilonggo-nized word for 'aviator'. Its warriors were actually future pilots.)

How we wanted to watch the performances, but it was very crowded at the performance areas, and the seats at the stage were being sold to as much as 1,000 pesos. And you wouldn't even have a good view of the tribes performing. So, we skipped that expensive option.

What we did was just to wait for the tribes to pass our way and mingled and had photos with the performers themselves! I was able to chat with some of the high school teachers and the students in costumes! One even told me they had to wake up as early as 2AM to start preparing! Such commitment!

Each tribu could include at least 30 drummers to make sure the drum beats are loud and the rhythm really created a festive, upbeat mood that translates into an energized performance.

Although the drummers stood inside the performance area, they were not required to paint themselves or wear costumes.

(Tribu Salognon of the Jaro National High School was the champion at Dinagyang 2017). Here, I am trying to pose with the tribe's official pole.)

Congratulations to Tribu Pan-ay for winning the 4th runner-up prize! The tribe performers were students from the Fort San Pedro National High School.

Before the 1200's, during the era of the Ati Chief Datu Pulpulan and his son, Marikudo, Panay Island was called 'Aninipay' from the words 'ani', meaning harvest, and 'nipay', a hairy grass found all over the island. Above, I was posing with the descendant of Marikudo, representing Tribu Amihan.

His elaborate, expensive headdress and armor were embellished with orange and red feathers that were probably plucked from a few ducks. My costume, on the other hand, was a small 'ati' headdress made of colored crushed seashells and chick feathers dyed in pink and worth a hundred pesos. I bought it the night before from a female vendor whose stall on wheels was standing along the main street.

Now, this red-orange ensemble is worthy of a national costume! These Tribu Ilonganon's creative costumes in hues of fiery red and orange easily captured attention with the drama the colors alone brought. Adding the figures of wings and oversized warrior headdress, this creation could have easily been a favorite at an international costume competition.

 The Tribu Obrero warriors in fresh green costumes, serious stare, and black curly wigs were about to move to the performance area at the Freedom Grandstand.

These kids from Tribu Obrero were rehearsing a few steps of their choreography before their actual performance.

 As these ati tributes participating at the Dinagyang Festival competition were from local schools, these students were from the same sections in order to make it easier for the school officials to arrange the rehearsal schedules as well as the makeup classes. This way, the performers, which were all classmates, had an easier time working and learning the whole performance and routine because they personally know each other. This whole concept clearly showed on how the performers behaved with or without the judges watching.

These female performers from Tribu Obrero looked enchanting in their costumes: shaded arms, elaborately beaded headdress, brown make-up, native woven dress and skirt, all accentuated with an islander's charming smile.

A few moments after I complimented them "Ka guapa sa inyo!" (You all look pretty!), another local tourist told them the same thing.

Some tribes brought with them real 'ati', whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of Panay Island. Since these aetas married among themselves, they retained their dark skin colors and curly black hair characters.

The competition rules allowed the tribes to bring props into their performance. These props were always cultural or religious characters that would reinforce the storyline of the dance. If I were the concept director for this tribe, instead of non-smiling ati faces, I would have made them smile showing a few teeth that would define the state of dental care back in the 13th century.

These black-gray feline costumes are part of Tribu Buntatalanit's theme.

Chaos in the street as this tribe prepares for their next performance. That helpful pole is where they hang their costumes in-between performances.

Since the tribes had to move from one performance area to another, they temporarily put their props and costumes on a rolling storage. This allowed them to free themselves from the heavy costumes during the move. They later pick them up to wear them again before the performance.
Glam Squad: In-between performances, the dancers had to have their make-up repainted as sweat erased their colored facemasks.

In 1967, a replica of the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu was given to the Iloilo faithful who welcomed the statue with a parade from the airport and into the city. 

Every competitor in the Dinagyang is required to have a segment about the Sto. Niño in their performance to tell the audience that these performances are both a religious and cultural celebration. Some tribus bring small Sto. Niño icons while others have oversized ones. This one above is carried from the inside by one performer. Notice the whole on the chest where he could peep through.

Like a pro, this lady performer from Tribu Pan-ay represents a Spanish señorita and carries a small Sto. Niño while wearing a thick, uncomfortable big dress under the warm sun. Carrying a doll-sized Sto. Niño all morning was probably a tough workout. But they all were doing this for pride and glory of their schools. 

This tribu's giant Sto. Niños were carried by participants. I wondered if after the Dinagyang, they'd end up as icons for someone's religious altar at home. 

While most Sto. Niños were carried, this cute one walked with the parade and looked like he was enjoying it.

As in any festival in the Philippines, there's always a beauty competition, whose winner becomes the ambassadress for the festival. This group of ladies taking a groupfie above a float included the winners of the 2017 Miss Dinagyang Festival.

Along the popular Valeria Street in the city center were rows and rows of barbecue stalls that competed for customers and tourists. You can order chicken barbecue, or pork or any other seafood that they'd grill on the spot.

You see? We didn't have to buy those expensive seats at the performance areas to enjoy Dinagyang. Our plan was even better! We had the freedom to move around and have photos with the performers in very colorful costumes! If we were seated at the stage, we could have been stuck there for hours and couldn't even move to get something to eat!

Before the start of the festivities, the cops of the Iloilo City Police Department walked around to disseminate information on public safety and order. We felt safe walking around the city day and night because of police visibility. 

As my sister and I were walking towards our hotel from the church on the morning of the competition day, a group of police officers led by PO1 Ferolino gave us flyers on the safety measures during the festival. A photo of me while chatting with the police officer ended up at the police department's Facebook page.

If ever I have the chance, I'd go back to Iloilo City and attend the Dinagyang Festival again. 

Wherever you are in the Philippines, it's worth flying to Iloilo for this. In our case, it was worth crossing the Iloilo Strait for some 'dagyang'.

(Fireworks capped the 2017 Dinagyang Festival!)

So, if you're attending the Dinagyang Festival tomorrow, have fun with a lot of dagyang!