Friday, November 28, 2014

Random "Living in Korea" Stuff - Part 6

Here are a few more random things about living in Korea:

1.  Selfie sticks! Want to get the ultimate self portrait while out and about? Then you need one of these bad boys! Very useful for group selfie shots and oh-so-fun, for just about 5,000 won!

Selfie-stick in use!

2.  Poop socks! Koreans have the BEST socks, with tons of cute patterns, characters, and sayings on them. This particular pair is so craptastic that I may have to get a bunch for Christmas presents - ha ha ha - just kidding! (Or am I?)

3.  Rooftops - this is the view from our apartment's storage room window. Nestled among the new, gleaming high-rises are a number of cobbled together shops and homes. I look down at the tarps, crumbling tiles, and stacks of teetering kimchi pots on some and honestly wonder how they manage to stay dry when it rains.

4.  Waffles - I occasionally try a new street snack during my travels and I think my new favorite is the waffle with some sort of cream cheese mixture inside - yummy!

5.  What does Seoul really look like? I've shared a LOT of photos on my blog posts, but here's a great time lapse video by a fellow at ROK-On that will give you the bigger picture.  It's fun for me to watch and say, "Hey, I've been to that spot!"  Enjoy:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Musical Hwarang and the Daehangno neighborhood

 As a K-Performance Supporter for the KTO I was able to attend another wonderful show this past week - the musical "Hwarang". I headed out to the Daehangno area on Seoul Subway Line 4 and exited at Hyehwa Station (Exit 2).  After a short walk, I found the Daehangno Yesulmadang building and headed to the 3rd floor for the show.

The waiting area is a simple hallway decorated with show memorabilia and the day's casting.

The set is very sparse - a painted back wall with five turning doors. The theater itself is small and intimate - the front row is on the same level as the performers (and I was worried about them during the sword fights)! The props used were really only for the fighting scenes.

The plot, from what I could read and understand online: five young men go to Seorabeol, the capital of Silla, to audition to become Hwarang. What are Hwarang, you ask? Well, "Hwa" mean flower and "rang" means young men - so beautiful men? Who, based on the action in the musical, also need to be good at archery, sword fighting, martial arts, poetry, and more.

The five characters are:
Yu-O: song of a Hwarang member who is rebelling against his mother
Ki Pang Rang: a self-centered son of a king who often fights with Yu-O
Moon No: son of a Hwarang that want to clear his father's name and lead the group
Moo Kwan Rang: forced by his father to apply; would rather write poetry; not a skilled fighter
Sa Da Ham: noble family servant's son; feels he must protect Moo Kwan Rang

This show is a full 2-hour musical, sung and performed completely in Korean and in a very K-Pop style, complete with dance numbers. The only translation shown was in Japanese (there are also a few showings when Chinese translations are provided). I was very thankful that I had scoured the internet for a synopsis and character stories - if I had not done so, I would have been completely lost! With my basic knowledge, I was able to understand what was going on, although I would have liked to understand the words to all of the songs (not just the topics).

At one point in the show there was, of course, the audience participation section - the actors each had someone draw on his face with a red lipstick. Since I could not understand the dialogue or significance of that scene, I can only guess that it had something to do with the facial patterns seen later in the show - maybe expressing their inner Hwarang?

Overall, it was a very enjoyable afternoon at the theater. The story flows well, showing their hard work to become Hwarang and their individual trials leading to the finale - will they become better fighters? will they be able to get along and work as a team? will Moo Kwan Rang and Sa Da Ham remain friends, or more?

They were very good singers, actors, and dancers - this musician just wishes 
she had been able to fully understand the lyrics!

The walk to and from the theater was an interesting one, as there were a number of art pieces on display.  I had some extra time before the show, so I got to explore the area a bit.  Coming out of the subway, I immediately found this sculpture:

And stumbled upon a small theater festival.  This area is full of small theaters and the walls of the subway were lined with posters.

If you happen to visit here, stop in at the Ticket Information Center just outside Hyewha Station.

There was a rather large art piece that declared "Life is Art, Art is Fun!"

And then I followed a nearby stream bed towards the theater:

And found, they are not giant seashells...they are rainbow colored piles of poo!

Many people stopped to take photos with them...I did not.

One street over from the stream, on the way back from the theater, I went in search of the murals I had read about online.  There were some smaller ones on area restaurants:

And at the crossroads sign on Dongsung 1-gil, I found the popular large one:

A map mural of the area:

And my favorite:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NANTA - a Cookin' Show

Want to see a K-Performance show that has music, comedy, and flying cabbage?  
Then NANTA is for you!

I headed downtown to Myeondong last week to the NANTA Theater, located on the 3rd floor of the Unesco Building, just around the corner from the Lotte Department Store.  It's located on a bustling street of neon store fronts, lined with street vendors.

Look for the red square by the entrance to the building.

In the building's lobby, there was this interesting digitized version of the Mona Lisa on display - where the artist inserted bombs and warfare that eventually lead to blooming flowers, 
as a message of healing and rebirth:

I had heard great things about this show and I was not disappointed. The fun began with the written screen instructions before the show (which had us practice applauding, sing Happy Birthday to a random cast member, and likened the upcoming show as "Jackie Chan meets Benihana"). It continued throughout and culminated in an energetic finale on large drums. 

The plot centered around three chefs and the manager's nephew needing to prepare a large wedding menu by 6 o'clock (within one hour!). The cast used real food, real fire, and real knives to orchestrate their rhythmic masterpiece - think "Stomp" set in a kitchen. There was percussive segments, singing, martial arts, and even some full audience participation.  It is a non-verbal show, so anyone can enjoy it, and they incorporate traditional Korean rhythm into the drumming.

The stairs leading up to the theater and the lobby were all decked out with posters and art.

A shot of the opening number of the show - where music of a "long ago time" is made using pots, a tea service, water beneath an upside down bowl, and more.

Christmas has come early to the ROK.

A display of the "instruments".

There's a great little cafe (you can bring beverages into the theater!) and a gift shop in the lobby.  I brought home a NANTA cooking mitt as a souvenir.

While I couldn't take pictures during the show, I did grab a shot of the opening set - set up as a kitchen and with an idol in the corner - the cast prays for a successful service.

NANTA is a toe-tapping, funny, and very enjoyable show.  I had a great time and highly recommend you see it if you get the chance!

Seoul Lantern Festival

The Seoul Lantern Festival is one of those events that I felt was a "must see" while here in Korea. I managed to be by the Cheonggyecheon Stream on a Thursday night, so the crowds were not too bad, and snapped as many pictures as my phone battery could handle - enjoy the tour!

I started on the East end of the stream, after exiting Jongno 3-ga Station on Line 1, which had the modern artist exhibits of light and lantern.

This next one used x-rays from the artist's body after a car accident:

And - a two-headed duck.

Then came the Cartoon Characters Exhibit:

There was a section underneath a bridge with LED lights:

This was a Christmas tree made of beer glasses and lights that danced to 
Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You".

These are the characters of a popular kid's show called "Larvae"...

Then came the National Themed Lanterns:

A wall decoration along the stream.

Lady Liberty made an appearance.

I loved this next section with tons of fish lanterns - it looked like they were jumping upstream.

In another area beneath a bridge, there was a display of mini-lanterns and tables for craft activities.

The next one is a model of this year's special lantern (picture at the end of this post).

A large hanok lantern with special message tiles from attendees.

And the last section was of Seoul City Themed lanterns:

Small hanji lanterns (traditional paper) were available for purchase - I now have peach flower lantern in my collection of souvenirs.

I had actually seen the next portion of this during the daytime on a previous trip:

It was nice to see the difference in the lit lanterns:

Depiction of Munmu - a dance performed by civil officers during the Jongmyo Jeryea ceremony.

The musician lanterns were beautiful and music was playing nearby.

And the final (or first) lantern on the tour.

Some quick facts about the festival each year:
    • It is held in November each year.
    • They light the lanterns at 1700 and turn them off at 2300.
    • The lanterns are displayed on the Cheonggyecheon Stream from Cheonggye Plaza near City Hall (City Hall Station, Exit 4) down almost to Insadong (Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 15).