Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in Korea

When I decided to move to Korea, I realized there would be many cultural adjustments and even sacrifices I would make over the year. Halloween came without the myriad Jack-o-Lantern-ladened porches, piles of orange and black wrapped candy, and haunted houses. October 31st did, however, see many a waygook classroom bedecked in makeshift spooky decor (my classroom features bats, streamers, and pumpkins) and plenty more waygooks traipsing about the streets of downtown Daegu in an array of Halloween costumes. Needless to say, besides the pub crawl, Halloween wasn't quite the week-long show as it usually is in the US.

Then Thanksgiving rolled in. The grocery stores seemed entirely unaware of the need for freezerfuls of whopper turkeys, bins overflowing with stuffing mix, and bakeries churning out turkey- and pilgrim-encrusted confections. However, Costco seemed more than happy to provide us American expats (and our non-miguk friends) with pumpkin pies galore. And even better, the expat community publication (Daegu Pockets) made Thanksgiving meal packages available for purchase. These bundles features a large cooked turkey, stuffing, a can of cranberry sauce (we need that cylinder!), and gravy mix (all of this was lovely, by the way). And all friends American and otherwise joined together their strengths (think Captain Planet) to provide an excellent meal worthy of any American family's table at the end of November. And of course, Thanksgiving lessons were dished out to many a salivating class of students across town. (My third and fourth grade afterschool class was particularly irritated with my pictorial display of juicy turkey and flaky biscuits around 4pm.)

December cropped up more quickly than I had expected. In the US, I am so used the warning that "December is nigh!" when the Christmas decor seeps its way into stores as the Halloween clearance sales begin. But this year, Thanksgiving came and went without a trace of mall Santas, Starbucks Christmas cups holding Gingerbread Lattes, and those eager neighbors with the crazy light display to put up the very second the leftovers are packed away. I reluctantly accepted that Christmas would not smell of gingerbread and spices nor would feature twinkle lights on every unsuspecting tree and bush about town; I guessed that this would be Christmas in Korea - like any other day in Korea, just in December.

Just when I began to accept that Christmas may be bah-humbuggy, I saw the first lights of the season. And then it seemed as if a sea of lights grew overnight across Daegu. It was as if the Grinch had brought back all of the lights and trees and bamboozlers and wambunckles and Christmas was restored, and with it, my Christmas spirit. There are lights all around Daegu - adorning the Donga department store, covering Junangro Memorial Park, twinkling across various stores and coffee shops. It just seems right and I am so happy that Korea has adopted these Christmas traditions, commercial as they may be. And then I began to notice the Christmas cups - Holly's, Da Vinci, Angel-in-us all provided their customers with cheery red and green Christmas-themed cups.

A few days later, I decided I needed a Christmas tree, so I hurried to Homeplus and purchased a 5-foot-tall artificial tree and ornaments. That night, I put up my tree in my tiny studio apartment and all seemed right with the world. As I saw the lights on my tree twinkle and admired the star on top, I could finally accept and appreciate that it was Christmas. And even though I will be spending my actual Christmas in Kyoto, Japan with my mom, I know that back home in Daegu there is a Christmas tree waiting for me and a stocking hung on my dresser with care.

Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be filled with joy and all that you wish for this holiday season. And please, be safe out there.

Love and Happiest of Holidays to all,


Sunday, December 5, 2010

YG Family!!!!!

I've been waiting months for yesterday to happen. Around October, a few friends and I purchased tickets to the much-anticipated YG Family Concert 2010. The YG Family is an entertainment empire here in South Korea. They essentially hold an enormous share of the pop/hip-hop market here on the peninsula. Among their bigger names are Big Bang, 2NE1, SE7EN, Gummy, and PSY (video links). All of these guys performed at the concert.

Sunday started out pretty rough, as Shannon and I decided to hop the more economical bus up to Seoul. This was sort of a mistake. After going to every single bus terminal at Dongdaegu, we finally find the Seoul-bound bus. The bus takes roughly 4 hours, double that of my preferred KTX form of transit. But whatever, slight hitch in plans. We arrive in a heavily overcast Seoul and make our way to Olympic Park, which takes roughly an eon on the subway. We were feeling fairly exhausted and uncomfortable from our long trip up, and began to develop second thoughts on our decision to head to a super poppy Korean (i.e. - lots of lights and glitter) concert with a bazillion screaming girls. But we persevered. Arriving at Olympic Park, we were greeted by numerous stands peddling 2NE1/BigBang glow sticks, key chains, mouse pads, pillows - everything. Then we finally made it to the venue and head in to the show. I was right; lights and glitter were in no short supply and the screaming girls were a bit more screamy than I expected but it is a pop concert. We settle into our pretty fantastic seats (thanks Bethany!) and wait to wowed.

Since we arrived a bit late, we missed a couple 2NE1 songs (oh well) and came into a Se7en song. Pretty slow start until Gummy rolls out with a brilliant piano solo number. Her voice is beautiful but the real surprise came when the stage began to move. The stage was probably the second star of this show, after BigBang, of course. Never have I seen so many lights, fireworks, fire(!), confetti cannons, moving parts, elevator lifts (like 8 or 9), and length on a stage before! These guys really know how to put on a show. At one point there were at least 10 confetti canons running for a solid 4 minutes. SO MUCH GLITTER! Anyhow, here a few highlights from the show:

1) Se7en comes out to sing and sits on a circular table in the middle of the stage. The stage lifts up and out of the stage and he continues to melt our hearts from about 20 feet above the stage. When he comes back down to the stage, he changes into the sparkliest sneakers I've ever seen. But these aren't just any sneakers - they are roller skates. He skates all around the stage and it's just adorable.

2) This song. I know, it doesn't seem like anything special but increasing the popularity of the phrase "What's up?" is a goal shared by every single English teacher in Korea. No one understands this phrase. Thank you guys for furthering our cause!

3) BigBang's entire wardrobe, including: the sparkliest jackets I've ever seen (G-Dragon's green one was the best), giant fur coats word by T.O.P. and G-Dragon, ginormous chains, and the sparkly gloves.

4) T.O.P.'s new platinum/white hair.

5) My realization that PSY looks like a Korean Wayne Newton. No lies, this guy is old and a little creepy. And his only dance move is jumping.

6) The encore (or in-core, as Koreans say) of the concert. All acts came out and performed a couple number together, including their rendition of We Are The World (this is actually from the concert I attended, sorry about the poor quality, cameras weren't allowed - sneaky sneaky person!).

Overall, it was a great experience (minus the girl screaming bloody murder behind us). We also got a decent amount of camera time grooving to the beats. I now have a much greater appreciation for BigBang (Shinee used to be my #1 KPop band but after last night's show they've been ousted) and Korean showmanship. If you like KPop, I absolutely recommend heading to a concert - you will never look at glitter the same way again.

(Apologies for the lack of my own pictures but as I said, no pictures were allowed. I tried to snag a few with my phone but the event staff was insanely vigilant.)