Sunday, 31 May 2015

Panda-monium in Seoul!

To borrow a title from a cartoon episode of Disney's Mickey Mouse, a 'Panda-monium' is sweeping Seoul!

Last Sunday, when I was making my way to the eastern area of Seoul, I decided to make a detour at the Seoul Plaza. Why? A huge crowd was gathered at the Seoul Plaza, not just to enjoy an animation festival, but to satisfy their fascination with an endangered species: the panda!

I just had to join them. The crowd, that is. Not the pandas. Ha-ha-ha!

Corralled around the green mats on the Seoul Plaza, the well-travelled pandas, in their black and white colors, and smokey, dopey eyes, were enjoying the attention and fascination of the crowd, who were all busy taking their photographs and selfies.
Just to make sure if the pandas really numbered one thousand six hundred, I asked Fiona, a WWF volunteer from Hong Kong, about the count. She told me that they actually number 1,600. And to make sure none of the pandas disappear, volunteers like Fiona watched over these papier-mache artworks and kept crowd from getting inside the circle.
These pandas have travelled to different cities around the world before they flew to Seoul. These jet-setters are in Korea to raise awareness on the plight of endangered species, like themselves, the tigers, the rhinos, the gorillas, and marine turtles.
According to the project's website, the pandas would be meeting fans in different spots of the city. And today, Sunday, their last day in Korea, they will be at Seoul Tower. So, if you have time today, you can see the pandas from 12noon up to 5PM.

Actually, there are 1,864 pandas left in the world, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) website based on their 2014 census. The ones in the wild number 1,600 plus, while the rest are in zoos and breeding centers.
This rare visit of 1,600 papier-mache pandas is a project of the French bureau of WWF and the French artist Paulo Grangeon. And with everyone's support for these endangered species and wildlife conservation, this number will definitely increase.

And perhaps for their next visit, Monsieur Grangeon will have to make more papier-mache pandas.

Here's the official project website.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Photo of the Day: "Stand By Me"

Or for Three Musketeers fans, it's "all for one, one for all".

After each performance that impresses the locals and international tourists every other Friday and Saturday afternoon at the War Memorial of Korea in the Yongsan District in Seoul, the soldiers and other performers mingle and pose with the crowd. 

And on one occasion, I was able to swing by and saw a platoon eager to share their time with the crowd. Although they were 'at ease', these Korean soldiers still had this air of discipline. And while they were huddled together, I just had to snap a photo from the back. 

And with their perfect alignment, uniform height, and intimidating military vests, these brave soldiers provided our photo of the day.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Lotus Lantern Parade, Gangnam Style!

More than a week ago, on May 16, the very colorful and very extravagant lotus lantern parade rolled through the streets of Seoul. 

I opted not to join the thousands lining up along those crowded Jongno streets that day. I decided to watch the parade as it rolled out from where it started, the Dongkuk University stadium.

But last Monday evening, on Buddha's actual birthday, a holiday in Korea, I went to the Gangnam Station area with coffee and stretching my legs in mind. 

And as I was for scouting a good coffee shop, I saw a couple of traffic enforcers blowing their whistles in the middle of the main intersection, which meant just one thing: something was going on, or going through.

My curiosity lead me towards the intersection. 

And there it was. Big lanterns glowing while being towed by cars followed by participants making a U-turn from Exit 2 to Exit 7 of the Gangnam Station. I realized, this was a mini-lotus lantern parade! And it was not happening in Jongno! It was happening in Gangnam! It's a lotus lantern parade, Gangnam-style!  

Although it wasn't as long as the one in Jongno, and there weren't as many participants, but it's still a parade.

So, I guess, next year, in case you miss the lotus lantern parade in the Jongno District, we now know where to catch the next one.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Photo of the Day: Blue Ladies

These ladies, who were proudly raising their placards of the Korean flag, looked all coiffed and ready to parade down the streets of Jongno for the lotus lantern parade.

What caught everyone's attention was the color of their hanbok, sky blue! Unlike the red, yellow and orange colors of the hanbok worn by other participants, theirs was relaxing to look at, just like the blue color of the spring skies.

And indeed the skies are blue, and so are these ladies' hanbok.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Photo of the Day: "Clear!"

The street, that is!

Thanks to the local traffic enforcers, the streets along the route of the annual lotus lantern parade were cleared of vehicular traffic minutes before the parade left the stadium ground of the Dongkuk University.

And on this street, just right next to the Shilla Hotel, the lotus lantern parade welcomed the first participants, and some bystanders who took a few selfies. Ha-ha-ha!  Well, doesn't an empty highway just invites selfie-lovers to have selfies right in the middle of it?

So, thanks to the traffic enforcers, this empty street (which is a rarity in Seoul, unless of course you have a parade or a festival!) is our  photo of the day!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Photo of the Day: Yellow and White Ladies

In their diaphanous white and yellow costumes, these ladies carried red flowers with long stems, which also contained a small battery-operated light that they switched on later during the lotus lantern parade.

But as they emerged from the Dongkuk University's stadium and with the spring winds caressing their costumes, these ladies looked ready to fascinate the thousands who were already waiting along the Jongno streets to watch the most colorful parade of the year. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Photo of the Day: Tying A Loose End

If you were there waiting at the streets of the Jongno District for the annual lotus lantern parade, wasn't it just amazing to see those colorful costumes the participants were wearing while holding up their glowing lotus lanterns to light up the spring evening?

But did you ever realize that, for their costumes to look impeccable as they walked down the streets of Seoul, a lot of preparation had to be done?

So, when I was there at Dongkuk University's stadium, I saw this gentleman helping another in completing the whole look of their traditional costume for the parade. 

Speaking about tying some loose end.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Photo of the Day: Sitting Pretty

Yes, before the lotus lantern parade started, everyone was sitting pretty. Literally.

Under the spring afternoon sun, the colorful hanbok and costumes of the participants overwhelmed my eyes (and attention!). Being privileged to regale the people of Seoul and international visitors that night, everyone made sure he or she looked his and her best!

And while the ceremony was still going on, the participants with the most colorful costumes sat prettily on the grounds of the Dongkuk University stadium, awaiting their cue to start the most fascinating parade of the year.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Performer of the Season: Mr. Ham, the Magician

If you were at the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival last month, you must have seen him in the middle of a huge crowd doing magic tricks. That's where I bumped into his performance.


Since it's a festival, it was just proper to have street performers to entertain the crowds visiting from all over Seoul, and from other countries as well. 

And while some visitors were happy enough to be dazzled with the cherry blossoms and the flowers displayed along Yeouido's most popular lane, most visitors were surprised that the festival didn't only welcome them with petals and plants, they were entertained with street performances!

                              (Mr. Ham breathes fire!)
            (Hundreds encircle Mr. Ham to watch his show
                     in the middle of the Yeouido street)

Yes, live street performances are usually the ones that make a festival more exciting as these actually engage the audience. 

And one performer is the artist, Mr. Ham, who brought his The Happening Show to the festival and performed for the crowds. The kids, who I presumed would have been bored just watching the cherry blossoms and having photos with their parents, were especially mesmerized by Mr. Ham's magic tricks! How often would you bump into a magic show along a street in Seoul, anyway?

                 (Mr. Ham poses with a fan after the show)

As he doesn't just perform during festivals, you may bump into one of Mr. Ham's street performances on any park or street in Seoul.

Here's The Happening Show's Facebook page. Give it a 'Like' and you may see him do his magic tricks while you're walking around Seoul one day.

Monday, 18 May 2015

A Colorful Weekend at The Lotus Lantern Festival!

Their costumes were just mesmerizing; so elaborate, so colorful, and must have took a long time just to put on.

If you watched the lotus lantern parade last Saturday night along the streets of the Jongno District in Seoul, you, too, must have been mesmerized. The extravagant floats glowing alongside the participants in their colorful costumes and lanterns must have let you forget the hours of standing just waiting for the parade.

But as I didn't want to go as far as the Jongno area, I again just entertained myself seeing the parade from the Dongkuk University entrance as it made its way towards the Dongdaemun area, and later, towards Jongno. 

And as my tribute to the participants who took the effort to put on a show, I will feature some photos from the parade in the next blogs.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Day @ The Uijeongbu Music Theater Festival

It was my first time to Uijeongbu, a city in Gyeonggi Province, which is just east of Seoul. Over the years, whenever my friends and I enjoyed a large, shallow pot of buddae-jiggae, they tell me that this dish originated from Uijeongbu, where an old U.S. army base was located.

            (The outdoor stage of the Festival)

But on this trip to neighboring city wouldn't be about buddae-jiggae. It was about the city's premiere cultural event: the Uijeongbu Music and Theater Festival.

As it's quite far if you travel by subway, we were lucky that we had chartered buses to ferry us to the Uijeongbu Arts Center, where all performances and events were held.

          (An outdoor theatrical performance)

            (Inside the Uijeongbu Arts Center, 
                     which has piano stairs)

In and around the Arts Center, outdoor theatrical and musical performances were enjoyed by the locals, and arts and crafts activities enjoyed by kids and adults wanting to find out if they still have their creative talents in watercolor painting.

             (The piano stairs of the arts center. It lights up and plays a note when you step on it. )

There were giant puppets and fairy tale characters around the festival for kids, and food stalls for everyone who needs something to eat.

A showcase feature, Mahlermania, staged by Nico and The Navigators, a theater group based in Berlin, was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. The libretto was in German with a mix of English, but since my basic Deustche classes were a long time ago, I hardly understood the whole thing. And even if this was based on the life of Gustav Mahler, the Austrian-Hungarian composer, my only knowledge about him was limited to the piano exercise books named after him. The staging of the opera was very good, but it was the connection with the audience that was lost.
(Dinner at Verdi's restaurant in the arts center)

             (Performers hanging on the side of 
                       the arts center building)

Thanks to the K-Performance Supporters team of the Korea Tourism Organization, I was able to set foot on Uijeongbu City for the first time. And although I would have wanted to enjoy buddae-jiggae in the place where it originated, the buffet dinner for all the bloggers at Verdi's was good enough.

Until the next festival!
            (Fireworks to end the second night 
                             of the festival)

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Colorful Lotus Lantern Parade: From Where It All Starts...

It's the most watched, the most popular, and the longest night parade in Korea. On May 12, Saturday, the annual Lotus Lantern Parade lights up the streets of Seoul again. 

For everyone who has seen the parade, the colored lights, elaborate floats and costumes glowing in the cool spring night mesmerize the crowds as it passes through the streets of the Jongno District. (For photographs of the previous lantern parade, do click THIS). 

As I have already seen the parade from the very crowded streets in Jongno a few times, I plan to watch instead the performances of the Yeon Deung Hoe, or the Lotus Lantern Festival, from where it all starts.

At 4:30 PM, on May 12, Saturday, Eoulim Madang, or the Buddhist cheering, will be held at the stadium of Dongkuk University. Aside from the usual prayers and ceremonies, the participants of the parade will cheer and dance to celebrate Buddha's birthday.

Last year, I was there right at the starting point of the parade. It was still daylight and the participants had not yet even lighted their lanterns. But what struck me were the colors and the atmosphere of the celebration. I realized it was not the lanterns that make the parade fascinating; it was the colorful costumes!

As the streets around the Jongno District will be closed to traffic on Saturday, make sure you know which subway station you want to watch it from. You can just exit from Jongno 5-ga Station, Jongno 3-ga Station, or from the Jongggak Station, all Line 1. 

As the parade leaves Dongkuk University at 6PM, it should be cruising along the Jongno streets by 7PM, when darkness will have fallen, and all the lanterns will be glowing in the dark. Do watch out for the elaborate, glowing floats with moving mechanical contraptions!

The lotus lantern parade usually ends at the Jogyesa Temple, where the participants continue their cheering and dancing even after the parade is over. And most of the floats will be parked along the street near the temple. You can always have your photos next to the floats there.

Here are some photographs of the participants in their colorful hanbok and costumes.

If you plan to watch the parade, you will have to secure a spot along the main Jongno road early in the afternoon on Saturday, May 16. As I mentioned, the lantern parade starts at the Dongkuk University at 6PM, and will pass through the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park, and will turn left towards the main Jongno street.

Warning: be prepared to stand for hours! 

So, do wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Also, make sure you have something to eat before going there.

But if you also wish to watch the performances at Dongkuk University, be there before 4PM.  From Exit 6 of Dongkuk University Station, you can just follow the crowds towards the university's stadium.

See you there!

PS. Here's the official website of the festival: