Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Face Shops!

From the advertisements on TV,  magazines and everywhere else, it's very obvious that the Korean society is obsessed with how one looks. It's really sad that this society judges one on how fair his or her skin is, how high and tailored the nose looks, or how one's face is shaped. The criteria also include one's weight and height. In this country, one's age or annual income may not be as confidential as how many kilos one tips on the weighing scale, or how many centimeters (not inches!) you hover above ground (or above everyone else!). Here, it's beauty over brains.

This is the reason why the cosmetic surgery industry in Korea flourishes, and these plastic surgery clinics earn (and a lot!) from one's insecurity, vanity, or from the pressure from society! 

And talking about these clinics, I was just passing through Sinsa Station in Gangnam-gu one morning and I was just amused by the billboards advertising these clinics that show the 'before' and 'after' appearances of some individuals, who, after their 'transformation', must have received a lot of compliments from their friends, or must have landed him or her some coveted employment.

But I also wondered, would I want to let people know how I looked like before my cosmetic surgery? Hmm. Would you?

As I went down the stairs and into the subway station, I could not escape these advertisements as the walls of the station were all covered with these, and all of them were very enticing! If I were looking for a plastic surgery clinic that day, I would have chosen one right at the stairs near Exit Number 2! Ha-ha-ha! 

And even on the subway platform, there were still posters, and even inside the train, there was one more! No one could ever escape them! 

The Sinsa-dong area is actually known for these clinics, and I am thinking of perhaps visiting one out of curiosity. I wonder what the doctor would want to 'transform' in my face? Ha-ha-ha!

Maybe, I could ask him to copy the nose or the chin of this or that Korean celebrity from a drama or some member of a k-pop boy band. By the way, most of the faces I see on Korean television may have been altered one way or another by just looking at the not-so-natural impression of their faces.

Last week, I read in the news of a death of a young Korean woman who died after undergoing plastic surgery. Geez. The price of a personal beautification project is not anymore quantified in Korean won, but is paid with one's life.

And sometimes, when I ride the subway, I can tell whether he or she has something altered. Sometimes, some surgeries are botched, one's face would now look like a Halloween mask. Others would have too many a surgery that her face now looks like a science project. I remember one night, while I was walking around my neighborhood in Hannam-dong, I saw a Korean woman, who must have been in her late 40s or early 50s, and I thought for a moment that she looked like the Korean version of Jocelyn Wildenstein. (If you don't know who she is, just Google her, and you'll find out what I'm talking about.) Even under limited lighting, that woman's face looked scary.

Generally, Koreans are good-looking, (although the most beautiful woman I saw in Korea was not Korean) but with these clinics that have turned into factories producing new, good-looking faces every day, it's getting difficult to guess which ones are natural or "Made in Sinsa-dong".  Did this obsession to look pretty and handsome come from the country's economic advancement which started a generation ago?

One married Korean friend once told me that once their baby was born, they would have to save money for their child's plastic surgery. Although I admire the couple for advance financial planning, I was shocked by their priorities. Until now, I guess not everyone believes that 'beauty is just skin deep'. And with the double-jaw surgery, where one's jaw and chin are painfully chiseled to achieve the preferred 'V'-line shaped face, beauty is now bone deep! I can't imagine the pain anyone would go through (and the money it would cost!) just to change his or her face, which reminds of the movie Face/Off, where Nicolas Cage switched faces with John Travolta, and just like a horribly botched surgery, one of them ended up dead.

But on that day at Sinsa Station, as I looked at those 'before' and 'after' faces, I could see that, to make them look a lot better in the 'after' photos, the lighting was brighter, the hair  and make-up were definitely done, and perhaps, some digital retouching was involved. No wonder many are enticed and convinced.  

On my next visit to the Sinsa-dong area, I am sure to see these big billboards again, and maybe, just maybe, out of curiosity, I should visit one of these 'face' shops and, well, shop for a new face. Ha-ha-ha! :-)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Super Heroes And Villains In A Seoul Halloween Party!

Last year, we let Psy influence our theme with a Gangnam Style Halloween party, and the year before that, everyone just came with whatever costume they wanted.

But this year, we decided on a theme of super heroes, villains and any loved or scary character from movies, and as expected the most popular comics characters came to the party!
(Dr. Doom with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Darth Maul from Star Wars, and Woody Pride from Toy Story)
 All kids had fun dressing up! Baby Jaden came as Skeletor and Baby Brady came as Superbaby, while Patrick came as Abraham Lincolm, the Vampire Hunter.
(Darth Maul and She-Devil)

Charlie came as the Darth Maul from Star Wars, while his mom came as She-Devil. Ethan and his Tita Joy partnered as Woody Pride and Jessie Pride from Toy Story, while Ethan's parents came in harlequin costumes.                                                                                                    

                           (Jessie photo-bombs Dr. Doom's selfie)
                                   (Batgirl and Batman)

And who didn't think that super heroes could go hungry, too? And to make sure everyone got fed, there were mostly Pinoy dishes like kare-kare, menudo and adobo on top of some macaroni salad. I could not name the other dishes, but maybe my tongue could! Ha-ha-ha! 

Although we prepared some games for the kids, they just preferred to do their traditional trick-or-treating, and dug and scavenged into the treasure chest of goodies and candies. Other than their sweet treats, each was awarded with gifts for dressing up. All of them went home with their trick-or-treat treasures and prizes! 
            (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter vs. Dr. Doom)
            (Woody Pride and Jessie Pride from Toy Story)
(One of the dishes is the popular kare-kare! I think there were                     menudo and adobo somewhere, too.)
Not to be outdone, the grown-ups played the 'super heroes' charade, and the four best dressed characters were awarded prizes. Jessie Pride and Batgirl won for the ladies, while Dr. Doom and Frankenstein won for the men.  

It has always been fun dressing up even for a night, especially for the kids. Halloween has alwasy been one of the days during the year when they can pretend to be some super hero, or someone else. And even during our annual Christmas party, we make sure they have fun by continuing the tradition.
So, from all the super heroes and villains in Seoul...


(P.S. Thanks to Joy and Archie for the first photo.)

Monday, 28 October 2013

At A Corner In Itaewon: A B-Boy Battle And Free Sketching!

I have always said that the most relaxing weekends are not spent at home; they're bed. Ha-ha-ha!

But this weekend, I didn't want to relax at home. I wanted to get some autumn sun on my face and some autumn fun on the streets. And I didn't have to walk that far to find it.

Right at the entrance of Itaewon, next to the Noksapyeong Station, I joined a crowd gathered at the Itaewon Square watching a b-boy battle. This year, I have already watched two b-boy events: one was a free style competition at the KTO headquarters, and the other was the 2013 World Bboy Masters Championships at the Olympic Park. And this third one is just right in my neighborhood.

That autumn afternoon, as I sat there among the Itaewon crowd consisting of locals, expats and a few international tourists, these Korean b-boys reminded me again that they are a league above those dancing k-pop boy bands. These b-boys got rhythm and moves, which those manufactured celebrities try to copy all the time. Their moves always amaze me as some of them seemed to defy the laws of physics, as well as physicality.

Other than the battles, everyone was treated to a guest performance of Gorilla Crew, a popular Korean b-boy crew. I remember I saw them perform early this year at the K-Performance Supporters' welcome dinner and k-pop concert in Gangnam. 

I guess the battles would have been fiercer if the stage was a little bit wider. There just wasn't enough space up there. I would suggest to the organizers of the Itaewon Weekend Festival to lengthen it by a couple meters so the b-boys wouldn't hit the judges sitting on the stage while they spin, twirl, back-flip, handstand, pop and lock.

After watching those bboy competitions early this year, I recognize a few bboys in the competition, who may not be as popular at the Jinjo Crew and Morning of Owl, former champions of the World B-boy Masters Championships. But just the same, these guys are good at what they do. You can even throw in b-girls as there were a couple on the stage competing that afternoon.

And while the battles were going on, a couple of lady artists were at the Itaewon Square giving free sketching to everyone. They would draw your face on a t-shirt as you spend a few minutes sitting down before them. I think everyone in the area passing by got interested in what they could do as there was a long line that afternoon. I wonder if they ran out of t-shirts.

I was glad I was able to separate myself from my comfortable bed this weekend. Ha-ha-ha! Although I already had fun playing tennis in the morning, watching the b-boy battles and having myself sketched were just a continuation of fun I was looking for.

The girls doing the sketching told me that their 'event' will continue until November 2, next Saturday. I wonder if I show up there wearing a halloween costume, they would still sketch me? Ha-ha-ha!

With the autumn temperatures getting colder as each week passes, it's getting more difficult for me to get out of my bed, or just even get out of my room. I just feel lazy heading out into the chilly outdoors, although I have a feeling that I'm not the only feeling that way these days, and I will need more than just b-boy battles and free sketching to draw me out of my house. Ha-ha-ha!

But I guess I should think like these b-boys and b-girls who came to Itaewon to compete and had fun while doing it. They simply just wanted to enjoy their weekends as well! So, next time I feel like I am super-glued into my bed, I will always try to remember that somewhere out there, beneath the cool autumn sun, someone's having fun! And I should do, too!
                           (The b-boy battle winners!)

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Philippine Madrigal Singers in Seoul: From Pop...To Sublime...To Divine!

I almost missed this concert because it wasn't publicized in English. I had to write '필리핀 마드리갈 싱어즈 ' (which translates to Philippine Madrigal Singers in English) in the search engine in order to find out where and when they will be performing in Seoul.

                             (A drink before the concert)

Luckily, I found the venue and date of their Seoul concert in a Korean website, which was later confirmed by a friend Nancy, whose two former students are now members of the best choir in the world.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers (or the Madz) were in South Korea as guests at the 2013 Busan Choral Festival and Competition, and they told me they had to travel for five hours by bus from Busan to Seoul just to hold a one-night concert. I know how tiresome and boring traveling for hours by bus could be, and those who attended their concert last October 18 were simply lucky that these singers made the sacrifice.

By some weird coincidence, President Aquino was also in Seoul for a state visit and was scheduled to hold a reception with the Filipino Community at Lotte Hotel in Myeong-dong on the night of the concert, but since I was belatedly invited, I had to decline the invitation. It would have been interesting to hear what the President had to say, but I was more interested to hear what the Philippine Madrigal Singers had to...sing!

So, last Friday, at the beautiful Seoul Angelican Church, which was just across the City Hall, Joy, Archie, Vangi, Chris and I joined the locals in filling up the church with our KRW 30,000 tickets! I thought this was a bargain just to listen to the live music of the best choir in the planet. We were seated a few rows from the altar, but at the center, where I thought the acoustics were at best.

And when everyone was settled in a few minutes after 7PM, the 20-member choir was introduced, who then entered the church amidst the welcome acclamation from the audience. One by one, they walked up the elevated platform right before the altar; I think the platform was installed just for this performance. And once they all took their seats, everything quieted down and silence filled the church for a few moments before it was broken by what sounded like whispers followed by voices in pianissimo which gradually, note by note, became louder with the soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices overlapping each other and finally getting together in harmony producing an incredible sound, which no one else but only this group of talented and dedicated singers, can produce. That opening number, Doxologia, was divinity set into music. It gave me goosebumps. (Gosh, that bass was really, really low!)

And it was like this all night: amazing mastery and execution of their very difficult pieces, which also entertained us with their own fun interpretation of some songs. They sang eight songs during the first part, and after a 15-minute break, they came back and sang eight more songs wearing a different costume of black ternos for the ladies, and dark grey barongs for the men.

Aside from Doxologia, the other songs I also liked were Sarasvati and Kawayan, and since I like pop music, I enjoyed their interpretation of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Whitney Houston's Queen of the Night, which was opened by a soprano singing a few bars like it was an aria. Her top notes were so high, they must have been heard as far as the City Hall that night. The locals especially loved the more popular William Tell Overture and the slapstick-y Italian Salad.

I'm not sure though whether the local audience realized that they were in the presence of a world-class choir that night. Although each song was met with loud appreciation of an applause, I was distracted by the Korean ajumma in front of me, who was just busy sorting out business cards in her bag while the concert was going on; and seated next to her was presumably her grown-up son, who on the other hand, was busy reading his emails in his smartphone. They both disappeared before the second part of the concert, proving my hunch that I was seated behind uncultured people. And since I was already inside a church, it was easy for me to say a prayer of thanks that these two left. 

After the last song, Queen of the Night, once more, the church was filled with loud applause and I joined a few locals in giving a standing ovation. Although my friend Joy also stood up for a few seconds, I remained standing in the center of the nave directly looking at the singers to show my appreciation of their talent and music. They must have spotted me standing as they later told me they thought I was Korean. I told them I was from Bacolod. Ha-ha-ha! (I remember the last time I stood alone to give an ovation was during the 2006 Busan Choral Festival and Competition. Among those seated at the center, I was the only one standing after the grand prize winner, the University of the East Chorale, gave their encore as the champion.) 

After the concert, I was able to chat with some of the singers, including Riva and Cel, who are former students of my friend Nancy, who, by the way, introduced me to her preferred pearl vendor at Greenhills Shopping Center last Christmas. I also bought one of their CDs from Chi-Chi, at the back of the church as a souvenir for this concert. 

As of 2018, the Philippine Madrigal Singers is the first of only five choirs in the world to have won the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing twice, and tonight, everyone truly understood why one juror at that competition described the choir's music as 'the most beautiful sound on earth.' 
                         (The Madz greeting the audience members 
                                    after the concert)
The Philippine Madrigal Singers are celebrating their 50th year, and we're happy that they included Seoul in their tour this year.

To the Madz, from my friends and I, congratulations and here's to listening to the most beautiful sound on earth and in Seoul for another 50!

                                      (My Madz CD)
                                       (Say 'kimchi'!)