Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Korea In Motion's Open Stage: Hwarang, The Musicale

Since the opening ceremonies of Korea In Motion's September Festival featuring the non-verbal performances and musical shows in Seoul, I haven't been to the Cheonggyecheon area to watch KOINMO'S open stage.

At noon during the week, the open stage features a sneak peek at different performances and shows.

Luckily, today, I was able to rush at KNTO's headquarters where KOINMO set up a stage where performers of the musicale, Hwarang, would be singing excerpts from the show.

But unluckily for me, whose Hangeul is very limited, I wasn't able to understand the lyrics of the songs.

But even though I could not understand a word, these five male performers brought out the storyline of the show through their musicality and really good singing voices. I was impressed!  They are so much better than any K-pop boy band! 

They were like a K-pop boy band without thick makeup and fancy clothes, but with real talent! Really impressive!

The 30-minute, open-air sneak peek didn't really give justice to the whole musicale, as the sound of their voices and the accompanying music were occasionally interrupted by the honking of cars nearby.

Here are the five talented Hwarang performers:

I guess if I really have to enjoy the whole length of the musicale, I may have to buy a Rush Ticket at 50%! Ha-ha-ha! Let me think about it.

Well, I have until the end of September to think about it, actually.

So, in case you're in Seoul and want to catch any of the non-verbal performances and musicales, you can just run to the KNTO's open stage area and get your tickets at 50% off.

Korea In Motion has an English page, by the way.

Hwarang is like a k-pop musicale set the Shilla dynasty, and although the open-air performance was just short, the audience obviously enjoyed it as I think these five performers gave them something new and different. Plus, these open air performances give the office people working in the nearby buildings something to look forward to during their lunch break.

Here are few videos I took of the Hwarang performance (which I highly recommend especially to those who understand Hangeul). 

Hwarang video 1

Hwarang video 2

Hwarang video 3

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Today's Burger Is From Two Broz. In Itaewon

Living next to Itaewon is quite convenient especially when you think you're craving for something that's not available in the neighborhood. So, one lazy day, I had to finally drag myself out of bed just like what happened when a few marathoners ran passed my neighborhood in Hannam-dong.

So, today, feeling like a zombie walking aimless out of Hannam-dong and towards Itaewon through that busy street along the Soonchungyang Hospital, I ended up at the intersection of Cheil Building with a grumbling stomach and a red traffic light.
But after turning left at Cheil, I spotted this burger joint which I often see from my Blue Bus 110 window on my way home. I would only see it from afar, and this time I thought, I really had to see it (and taste it!).

Two Broz. Burgers & Hotdogs
I just walked in, ordered from chicken-bacon burger from the menu (no fries!) and just a cup of soda -- something to fill my grumbling tummy with! 
And as I sat there enjoying my burger thinking half-hour ago, I was just getting out of Hannam-dong hungry. And now, I was happy I made the trek.
So, next I was hungry and in the vicinity, I definitely know where to heat to -- that burger joint with good burgers, white, simple interiors and menu to fill one's grumbling tummy.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dinner. Gangnam Style.

Who else hasn't seen in Youtube Psy's music video, Oppa Gangnam Style, with its cute tune and satirical lyrics. His dancing and galloping make it even more catchy on top of the upbeat tune and lyrics.

But does everyone outside Korea have any idea about Gangnam and where it actually is?

Well, the Gangnam area in Seoul is just across the river. The name actually means south of the river, and that area consists of three wards: Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-gu. And Gangnam-gu has the priciest real estate in the country, and has an interesting 'expensive' character to it.

I have written a few blogs on a few occasions I managed to cross to that area: from an afternoon stroll after a wedding, to an interesting drive-through the main Gangnam thoroughfare on my way to a party, to a Friday night dinner in Gangnam, and even watching Rain's free concert!

And of course, I saw Brad Pitt in Gangnam's COEX last year when he premiered his film.

I live and work in the Yongsan area, and I rarely cross the Han River during the week for anything. But I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that with the incredible popularity of Psy's song, I find myself twice this week in the Gangnam-gu area.

First was the invitation from the Korea Film Council to watch Red Maria, a very interesting documentary film, and the second was when friends Soo-jin and James decided to meet up in Gangnam for dinner.
             (Before crossing the Han River)

Soo-jin and I were coming from the Yongsan area, and James, who works right smack in the middle of Gangnam, around the Kyobo Building intersection (lucky guy!), would meet us there. As expected, driving through rush-hour traffic was not amusing, but we made it to the Apgujeong Station area in about 30 minutes, where James was waiting. 
                   (Traffic. Gangnam style.)

As Soo-jin knew the inner streets very well, we drove through the Sinsa-dong area and ended up at the restaurant next to Dosan Park. After the valet took her car away, Soo-jin led us to the restaurant:


Gorilla In The Kitchen? Why is that name very familiar? 
Aah! It's Bae Yong-Joon's restaurant! Friends Fay and Cielo had been here before, and told me that there were a lot of Japanese tourists when they visited, understandably because of Bae Yong-Joon's popularity in Japan. They must have expected to catch a glimpse of him here. But tonight, while the waitress was getting our orders, I just had to ask her if he was indeed in the house.  "No", she said. A very, very 'no'. Ha-ha-ha! 

And while Soo-Jin and James picked from the menu, I ordered that pasta-with-chicken-something. To me, they're all just the same. Same ingredients, different names. And of course, different prices. Ha-ha-ha!

This restaurant actually tries to be different from other dining places as it promotes healthy eating. On the menu, it indicates the nutrition facts for each dish alongside calorie count. But I wasn't really interested to know how much salt or cholesterol or fiber is in my dish. I was there to touch base and chat with friends, and not to be told how much weight I gained while swapping stories about our lives in Seoul.

That night in Gangnam, our dinner was a bit pricey, but spending time with friends is always priceless (to paraphrase that commercial). I guess Bae Yong-Joon's cost of the dietary research on the menu and the Gangnam real estate rental added a few more to our tab. I can now understand why Psy had to sing about it. Ha-ha-ha!

And that's dinner. Gangnam style. Burp!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Korean Documentary Film: Red Maria

As opposed to movies, documentary films let us into the lives of real people who are featured in it. So when Mi-Hui of the Korea Film Council invited me to the screening of Red Maria, a documentary film, I immediately accepted it! (Thanks again, Mi-Hui!). Real people are more interesting, I guess.

Just like the showing of the Two Weddings, the film started at 8PM, which meant I had to get something to eat from the kiosk before the film started. And that cafe-serving-french-fries-kiosk by the cinema was very convenient.
Red Maria talks about the lives of women in three different cultural settings:  South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The director, Kyung Soon, followed several Korean, Japanese and Filipino women during the six to seven years of making this documentary in order to show how society treats women and how they face their struggles every day.

From South Korea, the stories of female activists and sex workers; and from Japan, the story of Ichimura, a young lady who calls Yoyogi Park in Tokyo her home; Sato, a lady who was dismissed from her job at a giant corporation;  and Monica, a Peruvian-Japanese lady who helps the local Hispanic-Japanese population with her work. 

Stories from the Philippines are of the family living in Tondo, Manila, living next to the train tracks, the Malaya grannies of Pampanga, the bar girls of Dao, and Grace of Davao, who is married to a Korean man living in the South Jeolla province.

After the film, during the 'question and answer' session, I asked the director about the title of her film, and she said that the symbolism of the color 'red' was not intentional. It was only when people told her that the audience thought the reason why she had that in the title was because of the color of the periodic feminine cycle she mentioned in the film.
          (The director Kyung Soon and 
           her very helpful translator)

She also said that 'Maria' to her symbolizes a perfect woman, an ideal lady in everyone's mind, but she added that she believes the perfect woman doesn't exist anymore, and that's why she made that the title.

In the film, the Malaya grandmothers told of the story that, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the women of the village were brought into the red house by the Japanese soldiers and were gang-raped that day. Those women, who are now grandmothers, said that they didn't speak out after decades of the horrible atrocity because of shame. They were raped, while men of the village were executed before their eyes.

I asked the director how she knew of the 'Malaya grannies'.  She said that a group in Japan told her of these grandmothers, and so, she tracked them down in the Philippines and interviewed them. You should see the film to see how, in their own words, these lolas (grandmothers) endured such unspeakable abuse from the Japanese soldiers. It was an eye-opener for me.

If you have a chance, do watch this documentary. Director Kyung Soon showed me a different view of the society with her 98-minute story-telling. Click this Korea Film Council's link and contact them for future screenings.

As this is a documentary film, and not a movie where actors can detach themselves from the characters they portray after filming, the faces and names in Red Maria are real people, who continue to live their lives after the filming is over.  So, I asked the director whether she keeps in touch with these people who let her in into their homes and their lives. She said she does keep in touch and keeps tracks of them. She said she even spends time with the Japanese lady in her film who has now become a friend when she visits Seoul.

I highly recommend that everyone watch this documentary. For me, it is an education on how people, women in particular, struggle and adopt to a cruel society, which we all help create.
  (I walked to Garuso-gil nearby after the film to catch that night's atmosphere and a cab home.)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

...And Yeosu Expo 2012 Was Worth The Trip!

More than a year ago, when I heard about the Yeosu 2012 Expo's opening date, I immediately thought of planning to revisit.  I was in Yeosu years ago to attend a halloween party. Now, this seems to be the perfect time to go back.

At first, with the pricey accommodations (KRW100,000 a day for a Yeosu hotel room!) and the oh-so-wrong schedule of KTX trains and domestic flights, it was frustrating planning the trip. But luckily, thanks to Seokjin's travel club, Adventure Korea, I finally made it there!

While it was fun roaming around the International Pavilion, especially the Philippine pavilion, we had fun visiting the other interesting pavilions at the Expo, although we did our best not to 'melt' under the summer sun.

The Marine Life Pavilion, perhaps the most popular among children, has a daily dose of long lines. But since we have been reserved at 9AM, we simply walked in!  From the Expo gate to the Aqua Pavilion's gate! That convenient!
                 (These penguins remind of (1) one of Batman's archnemesis, and (2) Happy Feet, the movie!
From penguins, to the beluga, to turtles and exotic colorful fish, the Aqua Planet pavilion was full of, well, aquaria of different sizes displaying marine species from different seas and oceans (although I couldn't remember if they had a display of my favorite, piranhas! Ha-ha-ha!)

                      (According to the Visit Korea website
          this pavilion will remain open after August 13, 2012)
And in front of that huge tank (above) where baby sharks and thousands of other fish swam, children and adults alike stood in fascination while taking photographs (we were reminded by the attendants not to use flash photography so as perhaps not to startle the sharks. Ha-ha-ha!) 

With all the volume and water pressure and all, I could just imagine how thick those glasses were!  As I stood there, I wondered what if the glass actually cracked and broke?! All the water would then rush into the viewing area, and humans and fish would swim alongside each other, and the drowning question would then be: who would eat what? Or what would eat...who? Ha-ha-ha!

After going up and down the pavilion to see all those fish also swim up and down, we stopped by a snack stand and grabbed hotdogs for our mid-morning snacks.
We ended up sitting on a resting place, much like a traditional Korean hut, where you have to leave your shoes on the ground before climbing into the area.

Our next stop was the Korea Pavilion. Gosh, the long lines again! And this time,we had to queue. What greeted us at the entrance were these mascots in pink and blue costumes.
The Korean Pavilion's showcase was a mini-movie showing the history and the progress, up to the present day economic powerhouse of the Korean economy that it is today.

And at the DSME Robot Pavilion, a human-looking robot named Ever talked before an audience. She looked like she was dressed for the future and looked coiffed for the night. I told the guide that Ever looked like she's from Gangnam in Seoul. She giggled at my joke. I mean the human, not the robot.
(Ever, the robot, is wearing a sky blue dress, while the lady in orange skirt is a human.)

Entering the DSME Marine Robot Pavilion was like stepping into a new world of robotics, where one (Ever) looked like human, a few could dance to K-pop music, a few could swim like a fish, and the tallest one, Navi, could explore and work into the deepest part of the oceans.

A few even could play soccer. But it would a very slow moving soccer match with the scoring perhaps not expected to be convincing.

These robots (below) danced to Super Junior and Shinee songs. They could mimic even the dance steps. Someday, K-pop bands may be replaced with robots, and may no longer require years and years of training. Just a computer program and commands would do the trick. No need for thick make-up and glittery costumes as well.

I took this short video of the Robonova k-pop dancing.
Navi, the underwater robot explorer stands at 6.5 meters, dwarfing the lady guide below. It actually moved during the presentation and looked like one of those transformers from the movie.

(These marine robots put on a show where the lights turned blue to simulate the dark depths of the ocean.)

There were aquatic robots, which were shaped like fish and actually swam on the water like real fish. They could someday explore and monitor the seas for water quality, temperature and for other purposes. 

(That's the robotic fish handled by kids. I am not sure if I could borrow it and play with it on an actual swimming pool. It would have been cool!) 

We stumbled upon the parade of the representatives from Equatorial Guinea during the day. 

And this giant marionette, Yeonany, standing at 11 meters, roamed around the Expo, and we chanced upon him next to the Sky Tower.
There were interesting architectural designs of the participants' pavilions.

And while walking around the Expo using my phone to take a few photos (and to check my Facebook page!), it ran out of power! I had to look for a charging station, which was conveniently near!

Naver ran the very helpful charging station where I left my Samsung Galaxy S2 (after its battery lost power!).

The helpful English-speaking attendants gave me the box 56, where inside, there was an electric charger for my phone. I waited for almost an hour for my phone to recharge, and during that time, I also needed my legs to do some recharging from all the walking. I must have covered a few kilometers so far.

And right there at the International Pavilion, where its huge ceiling covered everyone on the promenade below, is the Expo Digital Gallery, where various animations, displays and amazing scenes were all enchanting everyone who looked up to the huge ceiling filled with LED screens. According to the Expo, it is 218 meters wide and 30 meters long.

This design shaped of a whale is composed of photographs of some visitors at the Expo. The 'whale' swam up and down the ceiling of the pavilion.

Aside from the pavilions, promenades which were brightly colored at night were enjoyable for visitors to stroll along as well.

And with street performers and activities all around, kids, along with their parents, were kept busy even outside the international or theme pavilions. 

And of course, when the darkness fell, everyone gathered before the Big-O floating stage for the amazing light, water and music show. According to the Expo, the fountain has 345 fountain nozzles, which could shoot water as high as 70 meters.

The show was a mix of a dancing fountain show, holograms and laser. Not to mention a few flames shooting up during the show.

My friend Sharisse and I had to rush to the stage at the Big O wishing to get a good view. But gosh, thousands were already there! We just had to settle for seats at the side, with a good view of the show. Of course, we would have wanted a seat right in front.

And as if the Big O show wasn't enough, there were fireworks display at around 10PM by the shore. Luckily, we were already outside the expo and were seating near the shore waiting for our bus when the fireworks lighted the Yeosu horizon.
As the Yeosu Expo of 2012 celebrated its closing a month ago after three months (May 12 to August 12) and eight million visitors (according to news reports), I congratulate the organizers, the attendants, the volunteers, the performers, the dancers, the restaurateurs, and of course, all the fish and other species in the Aquarium, which all made my visit to the Expo a memorable one.

Let's not forget Ever, the lady robot, whom I may stumble into in Gangnam one of these days, and Navi, the giant robot explorer, who may now be in the deep seas exploring the depths for all of us!

Thanks Yeosu, it was definitely worth the trip!