Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quick Guide to Halloween in Korea

I. Love. Halloween.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. And when I say favorite, I mean it

I spend the months before Halloween dreaming of costume possibilities. Then I spend the weeks after scouring/trolling the Internet for great ideas for the next year. Unfortunately, Halloween isn't a big holiday in Korea. Giant seasonal costume stores don't pop up in empty storefronts and the grocery stores have a pitifully small section of Halloween items. It's basically all witch hats and cat ears. 

But, don't let yourself get discouraged, fellow expats in Korea -- you won't miss out on getting to celebrate. Here's a glimpse into what I got up to last year, as well as some events I'm eyeing for this year...

halloween hongdae seoul zombie walk
Comin' to getcha.
Last year's Halloween, like this year's, fell in the middle of the week. Luckily, everyone is completely into partying the weekend before the actual holiday, so there are always plenty of events to choose from.

Before hitting the town last All Hallows' Eve weekend, we attended an organized event called the Seoul Zombie Walk, which brought us to Hongdae. The awesome part, however, was the fact that we started off at Seoul Forest, meaning we had to take the subway to get over to Hongdae. As zombies. Imagine a hundred or so zombies, stumbling around subway stations and cars, just... being undead. For information about this year's event, click here. We had a lot of fun last year, so I highly recommend it! 

halloween hongdae seoul zombie walk
Ready for some braaaaaiiiins!  
halloween hongdae seoul zombie walk
Zombies as far as the eye can see...
halloween hongdae seoul zombie walk
Zombies take public transportation too, y'all. And no one cares.
halloween hongdae seoul zombie walk
So many pictures were taken with strangers -- all zombies were wonderfully obliging, though.
Then, on actual Halloween day, I was pleased to hear that the expat bars in my area Incheon were having their own events. (Definitely something to remember for your respective areas.) And hey, even if there isn't something organized, if you and your friends want to dress up on the actual day of Halloween, just start your own party.

expat halloween korea

One spot was even having a costume contest, which my friend and I handily took first place in for our stellar Dia de los Muertos makeup. (We were celebrating that particular holiday a day early, technically, but it was a lot of fun to do the makeup.) Our prize? A bottle of vodka, to be kept behind the bar for us. Not bad, eh?

expat halloween korea
We win!
expat halloween korea
The costume contest participants!
Finding an actual costume is definitely more difficult in Korea than it is back home, since there's a lack of proper costume stores, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. The internet is always at your service, including Korea's Ebay/Amazon-type site, GMarket. In addition, there are a handful of Halloween supply stores scattered about, one of which got a great write up in Serg's recent blog entry on the Aclipse Blog -- I checked this same store out last year and it really is a good resource. I have also heard rumors of a pretty decent on in Bupyeong. The times they are a-changin.' 

As for me, I'm going full DIY and taking inspiration from some pictures on Pinterest... Not going to give my costume away just yet, but keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram feeds for pictures of my Halloween celebrations this year. I'll do my best to document the madness.

This year, we're planning to head back to the Hongdae area. Last year it was packed full of people dressed up for the occasion, and I can only imagine that this year it will be even more popular. There seem to be plenty of events being advertised on Facebook, such at this booze cruise and this dance party. Even better, most of the events I've come across seem to include a drink in the admission price, as well as some incentives for being in costume. (Read: free shots.)

Also, here are some super useful links with extensive lists of events this weekend for Korea's two biggest cities:
So, it's time. Start planning your costume(s), watch "Hocus Pocus," eat a lot of candy since you're too old for trick-or-treating, and get excited. 

Let's get weird, y'all. Happy (Almost) Halloween!

What are your Halloween plans this year? Do you know of anything awesome happening this weekend? Leave a comment below! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Great K-pop Adventure, Part One: The Flashmob

[This entry is hideously overdue... So my apologies for a delay of nearly two months for the full story of my K-pop experience...]

Somewhere, on my lengthy Korea Bucket List, is "see a K-pop concert." 

Now, I should start by saying K-pop isn't my style really at all, but, being as I'm in Korea, and I hear about K-pop constantly in the classroom, I've managed to develop a passing interest. By this I mean I don't listen to K-pop and have actually only bought one K-pop song on iTunes... Overall, I'm not a fan of K-pop simply because I'm rarely a fan of anything "pop" in general, the notable exception being NSYNC, of course. However, I do have to admit that some of those songs are damn catchy. If I was the type of person who worked out at a gym, I can see a K-pop playlist as being really fun to do workout things to. Truly. But otherwise? I'll stick to my mellow, folky-indie-rock, thanks. 

I'm sure you can see the dilemma here. I don't like the music, but I want to see a concert in person. Why, you ask? Because the atmosphere at a K-pop concert, from what I'd been told, is nothing short of Beatlemania. (Stay tuned for part two of this adventure, where I describe how it is, indeed, sheer insanity.) I just really felt like this was something I wanted to witness myself. Lately it's seemed that K-pop, if it has its way, would happily take over the world. And I wanted to see this hot mess with my own eyes. 

So, on September 1st, bleary-eyed and semi-apprehensive, my friend Talisa and I woke up early so we could catch a cab to the Chinatown area of Incheon. We knew very little of what the day would entail, but the promises of "flash mob" and "free tickets to a K-pop concert" were enough for us to jump right in, hoping the day would exceed our (admittedly low and/or vague) expectations. 

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob

At some point back in July, I'd happened upon a Facebook invite for the event via a local expat/teacher group. Some organizations, somehow affiliated with Incheon Tourism Organization, were looking to promote their upcoming annual K-pop concert. The concert, Korean Music Wave 2013, boasted a massive lineup of 20 different idol groups, many of whom I hear about on a daily basis from my students. The actual tickets to the concert were a cheap ₩5,000, and apparently they sold out lightning fast. In order to promote Incheon's tourism (and Korea in general) to foreigners, they also set aside a ton of foreigner-only tickets for various giveaways. Some options involved buying something from an Incheon business and showing your receipt, while others were more extravagant, such as spending a night in a particular Incheon hotel. The option that caught my eye, however, was a K-pop flash mob. 

Free ticket in exchange for dancing? WHERE DO I SIGN UP

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Yes, "flash mop." 

As we got out of our cab at Incheon Station, we easily found the stationed flash mob coordinators who gave us directions to the rec center where we would be learning our choreography. Once there, we got checked in, which included the first of three stamps that we would get throughout the day. Maps and schedules were also handed out, and we were ushered into a black box theater to begin rehearsal. 

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Stamped and mapped. 

Before rehearsing, we also got a rundown of the day. After practicing the dance, we would walk to the nearby Jayu Park for our first performance. Second, we were to head to Sinpo Market for a performance near one of its entrances. Then, our third and final performance, was to be outside of Munhak Stadium, where the concert was being held. As the day went, we would also get vouchers for free coffee and ₩5,000 in "money" to be spent at Sinpo Market. Upon completion of the final flash mob, we would get a souvenir shirt and a concert ticket! Simple enough, right?

k-pop incheon korean music wave 2013 flash mob
Our teachers, explaining our marathon, K-pop filled day.

The choreography was from the videos for two popular K-pop songs: "Fantastic Baby" by Big Bang and "Gentleman" by PSY. A fairly simple routine, but definitely one that required more rehearsal time than we were given, which was about an hour. Maybe I have outrageously high standards due to twenty or so years of dance training and classes, but they really didn't teach us well... But that's a long-winded rant that none of you care about. 

Though we were under-rehearsed (and generally confused), our first two performances were (luckily) in pretty uncrowded areas, giving us some much needed "dress" rehearsals.
Dancers starting to fill in at Jayu Park. 

I have very few pictures of us actually dancing since I was in the middle of dancing myself! I managed to snap the above photo right before jumping in, since we were supposed to trickle in instead of joining the flash mob all at once. (Which was a concept most seemed to... have trouble understanding. Mostly because I don't think that was explained well. Le sigh.) 

incheon korean music wave 2013 k-pop flash mob
First round of freebies to use at Sinpo Market. 

incheon korean music wave 2013 k-pop flash mob
I wonder what that very conspicuous group of foreigners is doing lurking in the street? The area of street pictured is where we had our second performance.

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
All stamped and ready for the final performance!

After grabbing food and coffee with our vouchers in Sinpo Market, we hopped on some shuttle buses to be driven across town to Munhak Stadium. The final performance was scheduled for 3:30pm, almost five hours before the concert was set to begin, but we knew that this last flash mob would have a much, much larger audience. 

Walking up to the stadium, you could feel the energy and excitement from the throngs of K-pop fans. Vendors were selling various items that declared your love for the idol group of your choice, long lines had already formed outside the gates, and we saw quite a few groups of girls run screaming past us for no apparent reason. We milled around our designated dancing space, trying (and failing) to blend into the crowd until the music started at 3:30.

So, without further ado, here's a shaky, blurry video of some clips from our dance: 

I was actually surprised that by the end, we'd drawn quite a crowd! After our performance, our dance teachers did some K-pop dance covers of their own. They were, of course, way, way better than us, as they'd actually rehearsed their routines carefully and for longer than an hour. When the guys were dancing, the teenage girls around us looked like they were ready to faint -- the screams were deafening. One of the dudes took his shirt off and all hell nearly broke loose. Needless to say, I began bracing myself for what would happen once I was actually inside the stadium... 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
Part of our audience. 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob
Panoramic shot of the circle that had formed, with the girls dancing in the middle.

After the dancing ended, we were all done! We lined up to get our souvenir shirts and tickets, and shortly after, all we had to do is wait for them to let us inside the stadium. Everyone was getting really excited for the show itself at this point, though after all that dancing and trekking around Incheon, we were also all hoping our ground tickets would magically involve chairs...

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob

The experience, while exhausting, was really great. I've been in a few flash mobs before, back in Austin, and they'd always been loads of fun. Getting to run around town and dance was enough for me, really, so the free concert ticket was a bonus. Definitely one of the more memorable days I've had in Korea so far. 

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will cover the concert itself, including some moments when I was actually afraid for my life... I'll just leave you with this as a preview/hint: Teenage girls are intense when they're mere feet away from the objects of their lust... 

incheon korean music wave k-pop flash mob

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monthly Photo Recap: September 2013

I'm not really sure where the month of September went... In fact, I'm completely bewildered by the fact that we're already a week into October? September was full of the beginnings of fall, a Chuseok vacation to the beautiful island of Ulleungdo, and the start of my mom's visit to Korea! I was kept pretty busy, as can be seen by all the blog entries and emails that are piling up...

Surprisingly, I didn't take many pictures last month. Well, on Ulleungdo I took a cool 200, but I don't want to post too many of those here... they deserve their own blog! So, this month's photo recap will be a little shorter than the past two. October's, however, is already off to a bangin' start.


So, I went to a K-pop concert... It was interesting. I came out of it caring no more or no less about K-pop than I did going in, which is fine. It just isn't my "thing," but I still had a really good time. Blog entries about the whole experience are going up soon -- we got in for free for participating in a K-pop flash mob! Pretty cool. Stay tuned for the full story. 

EXO, at the concert, Incheon Korean Music Wave 2013. 

We had -incredible- seats, by the way. :)

Scorsese is such a weirdo. Cats are aliens.

But why?
I got to check out a HUGE exhibit of original Studio Ghibli sketches -- it was pretty amazing. 

And across from the Ghibli exhibit was a wonderful Mucha show -- seriously awe-inspiring. As a massive Mucha fan, it was nearly a religious experience for me. 

Starting off my Chuseok vacation the right way: watching the sunrise on a beach on Korea's east coast.

Ulleungdo! Billions of photo-heavy blog entries coming soon about this magical place. 

I would happily trek along Ulleungdo's coast every. single. day. 

Me and my mom! In Korea! 

Mom brought Reese's to help build our depleted stockpile back up. Sorry, not sharing. 

It isn't quite cold enough for "real" sweaters yet, but they're already on the racks in the subway shopping centers! And for W10,000 each?! (That's less than $10 USD, y'all.) Can't wait to wear these this winter. I think I have a sweater buying problem. (Also, I need to clean my mirror... -_- )

I envy all the napping he gets to do.

Ended the month with the last day of the Gauguin exhibit in Seoul, which was really great. Way too crowded, but that's what we get for going on the last day... Still worth it.