Sunday, 30 March 2014

Spring Time in Seoul! All Roads Lead To Yeouido...Again!

It's spring time again in Korea, when everyone wants to go outdoors to smell the flowers. Literally.

And this year, the cherry blossoms are already starting to bloom and this weekend, a million people will gather again in Yeouido to enjoy the flowers, the festivities and the fun that go with this celebration of spring time in Seoul. 

On my first spring time in Korea, my good friend Jeeho, who used to work in the Yeouido area, told me to meet up with him at Yeouido Station one Friday night during the festival, so he could show me what it was all about. When we got there, at the area lined up with cherry blossoms which were all lighted with different colors, I was surprised that the place was already crowded with couples, families, people with pets and of course, office workers like Jeeho and me.

And as we navigated the five kilometer route behind Korea's National Assembly, I was glad I switched shoes before coming over. Walking the whole route in rubber shoes would be more comfortable, especially if the purpose of your visit to Yeouido is to enjoy the blooms and bring home nice photographs, and not bring home an aching pair of feet.

But if you want to avoid the crazy traffic of both vehicles and people during the weekend, you can always stop by during the week. On weekends, going there by car will be a challenge and finding a parking slot near the festival site will be a problem.

The National Assembly Station (Line 9, Exit 1) and the Yeouinaru Station (Line 5, Exits 1 and 2) are the nearest subway stations to the site. Once you get out from these exits, you can always follow the crowds, or the scent of the flowers, whichever works for you.

When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, they are like white wedding bouquets hanging up those trees, and they fall off a few days after, especially during a windy or rainy day.

If you're planning to bring your whole family, you can always bring a mat and picnic basket with you, and just park your car at the park near the 63 City Building, that tall golden brown building that used to be the tallest in South Korea when it was completed in 1985. From there, you can stroll and find a spot closer to the Yeouido Park.

At Yeouido Park, expect a lot of families, couples and bikers who would all be competing for space on the grass with a nice view of the Han River and the cherry blossom lane.

Although there are restaurants and cafes on the floating vessel parked at the Yeouido Park, expect long lines of people queuing to get some food, drinks or coffee. Also expect long lines at the toilet.

But once you're settled and have found a cool spot, you can just relax and enjoy the day under the sun and spring weather. And don't forget to dispose of your litter properly. There are huge designated waste disposal areas.

But for those who just want to stroll around, make sure your cameras and smartphones have enough battery charge as they might run out of energy as you won't stop clicking away having 'selfies' or taking photographs of the flowers and blossoms.

And if you get hungry along the way, there are always these food stalls where you can buy cheap snacks, or in my case, dako-yaki, which is one of my favorites. Luckily, I stumbled upon a dako-yaki food truck, which made my visit to Yeouido even more enjoyable. This was the first time in years that I have tried dako-yaki again, after my favorite dako-yaki stall at the Lotte Department Store food court closed shop.

               (My favorite dako-yaki! For only KRW5,000)

So, you better hurry up to Yeouido this week when the cherry blossoms should be in full bloom!  And please have some dako-yaki for me in case you see this food truck along the way.


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Seoul Observes Earth Hour 2014!

March 29, 2014...Saturday...8:30PM...Seoul, South EARTH HOUR!

Yes, we, here in Seoul, are joining the rest of the world in observing Earth Hour to raise awareness about our only planet.

It will be lights off from 8:30PM to 9:30PM in government buildings, bridges, public spaces, malls, cafes and homes.


And to help raise awareness, these colorful umbrellas were hung over the Cheonggye Stream this week. Each umbrella has a message made by members of a Korean youth organization.

Luckily, I was able to pass by Cheonggye-cheon as umbrellas have all taken their spots up above the cool flowing waters of the stream, attracting office workers, students, tourists!

So, tonight, if you're home, let's join the world for an hour in raising awareness and conserving energy at 8:30PM. Let's turn off all the lights for 60 minutes. Just imagine the amount of energy we all can save for just an hour. And it may also help you save on your electric bill.

Although the world observes Earth Hour on a specific date, why don't we observe it every night by turning off any unwanted lights or home appliance?

       (Oops! He wasn't not done spelling out 'Earth Hour 60+'   yet when I passed by.)

After all, this is the only planet we have, and it's our responsibility that we do our individual share of preserving it for the generations that will follow us.

Environmental abuse, deforestation, irresponsible waste disposal, air pollution, water contamination and strip mining are just a few of ways we are killing our planet. Even if we are not environmentalists, it won't hurt if we think about the environment in the way we conduct our daily living.   

We can recycle, use the public transportation and not waste too much gasoline, dispose of garbage properly, join the tree-planting efforts of your local organizations, or even use thermals indoors and let the sun inside your home during winter so you can turn down the thermostat and use less gas.  And don't forget, we can also shorten our showers so we use less water.

We all can always help preserve our only planet.  Let's do our share. 

Let's join Earth Hour tonight. 

A Pinoy At The Movies: NOAH

If only to observe the Lenten season, this movie would have been perfect, I thought. In the Philippines, during the Holy Week, offices are closed and everyone is stuck at home with no TV shows or radio programs, only the Internet and DVD movies.

But I'm not in the Philippines right now, and the closest Lenten type of observance for me is a visit to the Myeongdong Cathedral...and Noah, the movie.

When I first saw the poster and the movie trailer for this movie weeks ago, I was actually excited. I love watching period films and this one, being biblical, was a must-see for me, and I wondered if this one would be better than Steve Carell's Evan Almighty, his 2007 comedy film, which was a take on this biblical story.

Noah started with a narration through animation on how everything began based on the Bible. Starting from The Creation until the time before the Great Flood, I guess, this was to familiarize the audience members who weren't familiar with the Bible stories.

Russel Crowe played Noah and Anthony Hopkins, played Methuselah his grandfather, and the rest of their brood were familiar faces. 

The first actual scenes of the movie seemed philosophical, and not biblical. Industrialization, environmental abuse and immorality. Well, the last one actually was much closer to why it all happened. But whatever details that were lacking in the Bible, the writers squeezed into the movie: Noah and family lived like nomads who wore jackets and pants designed by Zara or H&M , Methuselah lived up a mountain that looked like a Hawaiian island, Noah's kids called their mother 'mommy', a seed from the Garden of Eden could create an Amazon-like jungle overnight, Noah could sing a lullaby, and superbeings called Giants actually built the ark without any educational background on shipbuilding!

While the essence of Noah's story is told in the movie, it's the modernized theme that ruins the film. Watching the film seems like watching Spartacus, Blood and Sand, the TV series about a slave-gladiator, where the dialogues are more American than Roman. I was hoping it was like the Academy Award winning, Gladiator, with first-rate costumes, cinematography and of course, a real Maximus Decimus Meridius. Maybe Noah's story was too primitive to deserve an imperial showcase like Gladiator, although I thought, being story from the Bible, it should have been filmed as such, like The Ten Commandments.

Oh, well.

We all know that the huge ark was actually built to contain a lot of passengers. And in the movie, when the huge ark was finally completed (without any aid of a blueprint!), all the animals that crawled, slithered and flew came to join the cruise. I wonder if there was a veterinarian on board if any of Noah's pets got sick. His wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, sprayed sleep-inducing smoke throughout the ship to put all the animals to sleep. Her concoction must have been the precursor of chloroform.

A few subplots in the film like a village of unruly cannibals who wanted to join the boat ride, Noah's adopted daughter having twins on board the ark after having been magically blessed by Methuselah, and a stowaway 'king' who ate a snake raw to survive added some drama, but these did not redeem it for me. From where I sat at Cinema 2 of CGV Yongsan, the whole ark...sank! Including the whole zoo! Ha-ha-ha!

Unimpressed and still shaking my head, I just treated this whole disappointment for this film as part of my penance for Lent. It's a Bible story horribly told. 

In the meantime, let's just wait for the next Bible story to be turned into a movie. How about The Tower of Babel?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The 2014 K-Performance Supporters Get-Together: A KaBOOM Of A Party!

Last year, during the get-together party of the 2013 K-Performance Supporters in Gangnam, the noisy guys from the North were on full blast in their provocations against South Korea, which actually scared only the people who lived outside the peninsula. Well, that's what happened when you watch those international news channels who exaggerated their reporting, making it sound like everyone in Seoul was running scared or was rushing to the Incheon International Airport to catch a flight out.

                                (VIPS' salad buffet)

We, who live in Korea, are used to these 'all-bark, no-bite' press releases from the North, and just like the rest of party-going people in Seoul, the K-Performance Supporters also ignored those provocations and went on with the party!  Yes, in 2013, the first get-together for the K-Performance Supporters was a buffet-dinner and a k-pop concert kind of party!
                        (Top bloggers of the 2nd Batch)

This year, for the 3rd batch, there were no more provocations from North Korea, only rain clouds and a drizzle that greeted the 2014 K-Performance Supporters as they assembled for the first time at the VIPS restaurant in the Jongno District in Seoul. 

This is my third year as a K-Performance Supporter (KPS). I remember in 2012, the first year, the members staged a flashmob in the middle of Insa-dong, and it was fun covering it for the blog.
                                  (The 2014 K-Performance Supporters)

In 2013, the Supporters had a trip to Pyeongchang County to watch the 2013 Special Winter Olympics at Alpensia Ski Resort and to enjoy a Snow Music Festival's K-pop concert at the Hanwha Resort.

And for the 2014 KPSs, the campaign started with a bang! Literally!

After the hearty buffet dinner at VIPS (I especially liked the tomato soup, frozen mangoes and pasta!), a short program inside the theater at the 4th floor of Cinecore Building in the Jongno District was held to welcome the third batch and to give recognition to the second batch's top bloggers, yours truly included (ehem!). After which, we all quieted down to watch KaBOOM!, a variety show directed by Kolleen Park.
                     (The Morning of Owl b-boy crew)

    (Morning of Owl with some K-Performance Supporters)

This show's slogan is actually 'que sera sera', Spanish for 'what will be will be', meaning, the audience would just be surprised with the performances in the show, doing away with a storyline popular with other non-verbal performances in Seoul. Four groups of performers complete the whole show: Magic TrunkVa Va VoomMorning of Owl and Performance in the Darkness (PID).

I especially liked Magic Trunk's sequence where the magician conjured water out of his assistant's plucking of a gayageum, and that trick where his assistant changed dresses in a nano-second by hiding behind his cape. I wonder if she bought those dresses at Dongdaemun nearby?

Va Va Voom's numbers were mostly gayageum-plucking, buk-drumming and pansori-ish singing and rapping with occasional head throws and dancing around the stage in shorts.

PID was all about glow-in-the-dark spectacle which I think would be a hit during Halloween, especially if they were wearing scary costumes. But tonight, these five performers were in their Transformers get-up, wowing everyone with precise movements that were synchronized with the colored, LED lights plastered on their costumes. While they were performing, I was able to tell that they were not an all-male ensemble, as the movements of a couple were a little bit 'soft'. But boy did they bring the house down! Clearly, they are the best act of the night! The lasers and lights playing in the dark, coupled with the Transformers theme synchronized with the music were all perfect ingredients on how to grab the audience's attention.

And the Morning Of Owl? Well, everyone would have been blown away if Bboy Pocket was there tonight. Unfortunately, it was his night off. Bboy Pocket is I think the bboy who can execute a Thomas Flair for the longest time.

These bboys are actually the current R16 world b-boy crew champions. I first saw them last year at the R16 Korea World  B-Boy Masters Championships at Olympic Park, where they battled and defeated b-boy crews from around the world. And tonight, just as everyone else, I enjoyed again their number where they threw those white confetti in the end. This number was their 'showcase performance' at the world championships which also brought down the Olympic stadium down that time. Figuratively speaking, of course. 

After the show, I had to ask the KaBOOM! staff whether Morning of Owl was dropping by the lobby. I had to say 'hi' to Bboy Birdie, whom I knew since the championships. Luckily, the staff was able to catch them before they left the building, and everyone who was still in the lobby was able to have photos with them.

KaBOOM! is indeed a different kind of show. As its brochure says, 'Forget about the stories'. It's a variety show of four acts with each act a performance of its own. No more wondering about a story during the show. Just let yourself be entertained by magic, modernized Korean traditional music, gravity-defying, shoulder-dislocating moves, and synchronized lasers and lights dancing in the dark.

So, thanks again to the Korea Tourism Organization's International Events Team, who organized the first get-together. Everyone truly enjoyed the dinner and the show!

Here's to another year of a successful campaign for Korean performances!