A Travellerspoint blog

The Jisan Valley Rock Festival 2012

“Music does not excite until it is performed.” ~ Benjamin Britten

sunny 35 °C

Every year, thousands of people enjoy the Korean summer by going to the magnitude of music festivals held all over the country. Some, like the Jisan Valley Rock Festival, are bigger than others. First started in 2009, this festival continues to bring in big international acts like The Arctic Monkeys and Oasis. This year the headlining acts were Radiohead, James Blake and The Stone Roses, who were preceded by Beady Eye (Oasis without Noel Gallagher). The headliners all hailed from England, making my English friends at the festival very excited.

DAY 1

Welcome to Jisan
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The festival is held at the Jisan Valley Ski Resort which is a green valley ideal for festivals and camping in the summer. In winter, the slopes surrounding the valley, becomes an icy ski paradise. It is located about 1.5 hours away from Seoul near the city of Icheon (note: not Incheon). During our bus ride there the traffic was so bad that it took us more than three hours to make our way down. We finally arrived and then we had to queue three different times. First, to hand in our e-tickets to get our festival band, then we had to queue for our camping band and finally for our over 19 band, which allows you to buy alcohol of course.

The Jisan Armbands
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As we were moving about 10km/h on the way to Jisan, we arrived pretty late and was only ready to go out and explore at about 6pm. We had to pick a spot, carry all our bags up the hill and then set up our tents. The camping area was up one of the ski slopes to the one edge of the festival. After setting up, we went down to load money on our T-money cards and started enjoying the festival. T-Money cards are Korea's solution to an electronic money society. These cards are mainly used for public transport in Korea. When you want to walk trough the turnstiles at the train station, you use your T-Money, on the bus, in the taxi, etc. You can even use them at stores. The problem is that once money is loaded onto the card, you cannot take it off, and when you lose your card, the money on it is also lost. That is why no one ever uploads a lot of money on their cards. The really clever thing about Jisan, is that they did not accept cash at any of the stalls or shops. This meant that when you buy something you quickly swipe your T-Money card, there is no hassle with money or change. And when you have money leftover on your card after Jisan, it doesn't really matter as you can use this card everywhere in Korea.

The tent village up on the hill
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First sunset over Jisan
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At Jisan there are a few different stages. The Open Stage is for amateur bands and singers who get invited to perform here. The Green / Red Stage is the same stage. During the day, it was called the Green Stage and some bands would play, but during nighttime it became the Red hot stage and Korean Rap crews and Dubstep DJs would take to the stage. The Red Stage came to life after the last act at the main stage finished and everyone who weren't too tired or too drunk to party on, moved on to the Red Stage. The main stage was called the TOP Stage and this is where all the headliners performed.

The Open Stage: Surrounded by all the food stalls, here we mostly sat down and had some food and listened to unknown Korean bands.
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The TOP Stage
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1. Elvis Costello and the Imposters
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2. Radiohead
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Red Stage Craziness: Drinking out of buckets, crazy semi-naked rappers on stage, Koreans jumping all over, sitting on each others shoulders and getting chased off by security, that's the red stage for you.
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DAY 2

With temperatures ranging between 35 and 40 degrees during the day, sleeping late was not an option. The tents were in the middle of a field and not long after sunrise, everyone had to jump out to get some air, a quick shower and then move on to seek shade. The showers at Jisan were very clean and neat, but I did wait an hour for an icy cold shower. Also, it's metal trailers of open showers. About 5 girls can shower at the same time. Koreans have no shame about their bodies and being naked. Being a foreigner, Koreans will always stare. Being a naked foreigner, they will stare even more. Upon entering the shower trailer and realising the shower situation, I took a deep breath, quickly threw my clothes in the locker, showered with my back to them and jumped out to get dressed as quick as I could. Glad that ordeal was over, I made my way down to the festival area to get some food and shade.

Passed out Koreans everywhere: Seeking some relief from the crazy heat just like us.
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Daytime at Jisan: Centaurs, promotions, shade seeking, extreme sunblock application, eating junkfood, and finally finding a magnificent lounge complete with lounge chairs and amazing fans.
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That night James Blake headlined the TOP stage. An unknown boy, who sang the most depressing music known to man. We headed to the Red Stage instead to watch Owl City and some Korean rap crews again. I only knew Fireflies by Owl City, coincidentally using it in a lesson with my kids the previous week too, but he was still fun watching.

More Red Stage Craziness: We met Mario, drank out of buckets again, ate some pineapple that someone stole somewhere, danced with more crazy Koreans and wore buckets as hats, all the while dancing to good music.
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DAY 3

The second morning, we woke up even earlier than the first. The reason: this day was boiling hot. Later, temperatures would go up to almost 40 degrees. There is only one advantage of waking up at 6am after going to bed at 3am and that is the showers are empty. Disadvantage, no food stalls are open yet and thirsty, hungry, hungover people are cranky.

Early morning deserted festival
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Daytime at Jisan: As one of the hottest days of the year, we just seeked shade, I spotted the South African flag, and we just watched crowds suffering in the heat from a top our lounge view.
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And then suddenly the sun started setting and like vampires hiding from the sun the whole day, we could risk leaving the shade. The time had arrived for the highlight of the weekend. Beady Eye and The Stone Roses. The British boys being so in their element at seeing The Stone Roses that they could not contain themselves.

British Pride
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Beady Eye and The Stone Roses
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When The Stone Roses finished their set, a massive display of fireworks started next to the stage. Bob Marley's Redemption Song played in the background with everyone singing along. The words "Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom" felt very fitting as we watched the fireworks light up the night sky. Music is about expression and expression is freedom. Music is freedom. Music brings us together and sets us free. DSCF4181.jpg

And that's a Korean music festival for you. Just like the Benjamin Britten quote says: Music doesn't really excite until we experience it when it is performed. And that is what a music festival is all about. Soaking in good music and talent on stage with thousands of people who love it just like you do.

TOP TIPS:

1. Do book a place in a pension. If you do not want to camp and want to be able to sleep late, try and book a place in one of the pensions or hostels right outside the festival. They fill up very fast, so try as early as possible.
2. Do book the official Jisan bus. Public transport leaves from the Bus Terminal and then stops in the nearest town which means you will have to take a taxi or walk down to the festival area. The official busses start at three different destinations throughout Korea, our closest was Seoul Station, and then drop you off right at the festival. The busses take you back again as well. Well worth it. A friend booked these tickets, but the information is on the official Jisan website.
3. Do take enough money. I loaded about 300, 000 won on my T-Money and it was more than enough. If you are a full-blown alcoholic, a little more money would possibly have to be taken.
4. Do take a fold-up mat or light blanket of some sort. Sitting or sleeping on the grass with ants biting your bum is not as fun as you might imagine.
5. Do take your T-Money card with. If you already have a T-Money card, you can use it at Jisan, no need to buy the official Jisan card.
6. Do take your ARC / some sort of identification with. How else can you prove your age and get an Over 19 armband?
7. Do take sunblock and apply regularly, drink lots of water and stay in the shade. You will dehydrate to the point of being sick and this is no fun for anyone.
8. Do take advantage of all the free stuff. Promotions, promotions and more promotions. Just take it all.
9. Koreans are efficient and organise things to the extreme. This is an amazing festival, so please, DO HAVE FUN!

Official Jisan Website!

Posted by Anja Fourie 20:20 Archived in South Korea Tagged oasis music festival south_korea promotions korea alcohol jisan beady_eye the_stone_roses james_blake south_african bob_marley official_jisan Comments (1)

Deokjeokdo, South Korea

Exploring a Korean island

overcast 21 °C

Buddha's birthday is on the 28th of May, conveniently falling on a Monday this year, giving us all a lovely long weekend. For this long weekend we decided to visit one of the numerous islands populating the Korean coast. One of these islands, Deokjeok Island, or Deokjeokdo (do meaning island in Korean), is the largest island of the Deokjeok-myeon islands. It is located in Ongjin County which falls under the jurisdiction of the bigger Incheon Metropolitan. Living in the Dongincheon area, we are very closely situated to Yeon'an Pier, which is Incheon's ferry port. Deokjeokdo is aproximately 75kms from the port and the ferry takes about 1 hour to the island.

1. Map
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2. Waiting at the Ferry Terminal
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3. Fun on the ferry
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We left the ferry at approximately 10am on Saturday morning. Arriving at the island, numerous ladies are cleaning and drying small Rays. This I have tried and it is very hard and chewy and not nice at all. It comes to your table resembling squid, but then suprises you with its wet cardboard taste. Passing the ladies with their Rays, we walk up the pier and wait for the busses from our different pensions to come pick us up. Pensions are Korean style guesthouses. They look like small apartment building with maybe three floors. Bedding is provided, but this is Korean style. You sleep on the floor.

4. Partying in our pension room
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At night, some bands were playing on the beach. Apparently it is also Deokjeokdo weekend custom, for the English teachers that is, to go in their animal onesies. I went as a panda.

5. Animals at Night
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6. Animals at Day
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After a nice long weekend away, we return to the port to catch the ferry back to reality. On the way back, we don't race for the outside of the ferry, but rather a nice chair inside, where we can all fall asleep on the way back home, to Incheon.

Posted by Anja Fourie 02:48 Archived in South Korea Tagged water beach island south_korea ferry pension deokjeokdo deokjeok Comments (1)

Gunsan and the Jeonju International Film Festival

"A Beautiful Change of the World through Cinema" ~ Jeonju Festival

sunny 23 °C

On a Friday afternoon after school, I jump on a bus and head to Gunsan. Gunsan is located on the west coast of the Korean peninsula. It was once a very small fishing village on the banks of the Geum River, but today it boasts a population of approximately 280 000. This is a very small town compared to the 120 000 people alone who live in Jung-gu district, which is my area, and the more than 2.7 million people who reside in Incheon.

As Gunsan is located near very fertile ground, a lot of rice is harvested here. Gunsan grew due to the port established here in the 19th century to the export the large amounts of rice harvested. Gunsan is a very industrialised town and its economy thrives on fishing, agriculture and the heavy industry The factories for GM Korea and Tata Daewoo are located in Gunsan. Gunsan is also home to the newly opened Saemangum Seawall, which is the largest dyke in the world at the moment. It stretches for 33 kilometers (500ms longer than the Asluitdijk dyke in the Netherlands) to create a 400 square kilometer area of reclaimed farmland and a freshwater reservoir. It has been an issue of many environmental protests.

I went here to visit my friend, Lizelle, who lives in Gunsan. She is a fellow South African and I met her during our EPIK orientation at the beginning of my contract. We are also planning to visit the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) which is on this weekend.

The bus to Gunsan leaves from Incheon Express Bus Terminal. It takes about 3 hours on a bus that smells less than fresh. It also never ceases to amaze me how Koreans can sleep anywhere and anytime. They will also not wake up for anything. The girl next to me is almost falling on my lap, but she won't wake up. This happens a lot on the trains as well. Amazingly they always wake up just before they need to get off the train.

I arrive at about 10pm and we head down to the so-called Bar Street or Susong-Ro for a few drinks and dinner. We have beer, fruit and chicken. Koreans love to eat fruit when they are drinking. I find it to be a very strange habit, but Korean fruit is very delicious as they import it from tropical countries such as the Philippines. In this street we also see a lot of US pilots as the US Army Air Base is located in Gunsan. Gunsan has that small town feel. The buildings aren't as tall, cars and people generally seem to be less, and the air is fresher.

1. Fruit and Beer -- all finished
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2. Some Gunsan
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The next day we head out to Jeonju. It is located 30 minutes inland from Gunsan by bus. The bus is overbooked and all the way back I am sitting on the step at the back, right above the engine. I am burning up during this ride as the heat from the engine is making the floor almost unbearably hot.

We finaly arrive and it is extremely hot and busy. JIFF has been held here in Jeonju since 2000 and it focuses mainly on independent and art films. We didn't book for any films, but did eventually get tickets to see Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji. It is a black and white, Japanese film from 1955. The movie was quite funny even though most of the cast dies in the end. During the day we had some lunch, did a little shopping and just explored Jeonju. We took the last bus back to Gunsan after dinner that evening and this time we had some seats.

3. Some Jeonju Festival
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After a good night's sleep, I get on a bus again and head home to Incheon. It was a good weekend.

Posted by Anja Fourie 16:41 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea film_festival gunsan jiff jeonju jeonju_international_film_festi air_base pilots Comments (0)

First Experience of the Korean Music Scene

It's not all Kpop and silly girls and boys looking like girls...

rain 20 °C

On a very rainy day in Itaewon, we are sitting in a bar, hiding from the massive storm outside. It's still cold and I'm wearing about three layers of winter clothes. Some band is playing me to sleep in the bar and it's not even dark outside yet. The window behind me keeps being opened and a rush of cold air and wet wind blows onto my neck.

As it starts to get dark, we leave to go and get dinner. Somewhere during the evening, with the strong wind snapping my umbrella back, I just left the irritating umbrella right there in the bar. Outside I realise my mistake as the rain is now coming down even harder. We hop in a taxi and make our way to Vatos Urban Tacos, a mexican restaurant in Itaewon. The food is incredibly spicy, but good. Here I have a Corona Margarita, aptly named a Coronarita.

1. Coronarita...A massive alcoholic delight
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During the course of the evening two new girls join us. As everyone speaks of what the evening holds, the one girl talks about some awesome bands that are playing in Hongdae. My ears immediately whir alive. Having always been a fan of live music and discovering good new bands, I am very keen to go with these two girls. No one at the table looks interested at all, but I am very interested and agree to go with the girls. We take a taxi to Hongdae for about 25,000 won. The bands are playing at DGBG. My two new friends unfortunately have no idea where this place is. We ask around and find it eventually. Entrance is 10,000 won which includes a drink.

2. Club DGBG
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The bands here are good. The music is varied as well. Some Korean hard rocking girl bands, westerners singing in Korean and even Koreans singing in English. After all the opening bands, a two piece get on stage. Their style can best be described as Indie Folk and their is music is awesome. We jump and dance and sing. The two girls leave, but at the club I coincidentally meet some of my friends from orientation and continue to party with them. I am desperate to find the name of this band. One guy knows their name, but the next morning I am very sad to realise that I forgot the name. I message my friend about this very sad predicament that I find myself in. Soon I receive a message with a link to a song. It's them. It's Wagwak. Their name stands for "We aren't gay, we are Korean". This points to the way Koreans dress and how Korean men often hold hands or put their arms around each other, which is seen as nothing strange in the Korean culture, but sometimes had to be explained to their foreign friends.

Give them a listen on SoundCloud as well!

Here is the article posted on Chincha?! of that night. Watch the video at the bottom. At 02:03 minutes in, I am the one in the bottom left corner putting my hand up in the air..

So glad that I finally found this band, I start listening to all of their music that I can find online. Not very long after this gig they put up a notice on their Facebook page. They will be moving to Europe to further their music careers there and possibly get signed by an international label. They announce their last gig in Korea. I am desperate to see them for the last time and start introducing them to some of my friends. My friends from orientation want to go, but I cannot seem to get a definite answer from them. No one here in Incheon seems to share my passion until I introduce them to a new friend. He seems to love them more than I do and I am excited that I finally found someone to see this band with. This time they are playing at Freebird, once again in Hongdae. Freebird is one of the oldest live venues in Hongdae and is quite spacious compared to the small underground DGBG. Entrance is 10,000 won which also includes a free drink. To start the show, the band moves into the crowd and sing from right between the people. For the remainder of the show, they move to the stage. They are even better than the first time I saw them as I now know some of their music. I buy the Limited Edition EP that they make available at the show, and steal a poster from the wall which I then proceed to forget in the taxi back home.

3. Wagwak's Last Gig in Korea
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4. Meeting the lead singer of Wagwak, Daehyun Kim
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A photo taken of me and my friend are also featured on Chincha, an online magazine. Read the article about Wagwak's Last Gig here. We are the second picture in the article.

My first experience of the Korean music scene was a great one. I was sad to see this great band leave Korea, but I do know that there are still many more of these bands to discover.

Posted by Anja Fourie 03:57 Archived in South Korea Tagged folk indie hongdae itaewon wagwak club_ff loose_union chincha Comments (1)

The Korean Chinatown

"I will bring you down, baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown." ~ Jack (Meet the Parents)

sunny 20 °C

Less than 1km from where I stay, is Korea's only official Chinatown. It falls within Jung-gu ward, which is the same ward my apartment building and school falls in. To get there you can get off at Incheon station, and you will be right in Chinatown. If you are on the rapid train, get off at Dongincheon station and walk for about 10 minutes. According to international sizes and compared to Chinatowns in other cities such as San Francisco or New York, Incheon's Chinatown is quite small.

The official entrance to Chinatown greets you with a massive stone gate. The gate is 11 metres tall and built in the traditional Chinese gateway style, called a paifang.

1. Stone Gate Entrance to Chinatown
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The Chinese Consulate in Incheon was built in 1884. From here, Chinatown started growing. During the 1940's the town flourished with about 10,000 Chinese living here. The Chinese residents traded silk, chinaware and oriental medicine with the Koreans. Korea had approximately 80,000 registered Chinese residents during these years. Unfortunately after the Korean war, a nationwide distrust of the Chinese appeared, because of their invasion of Korea. The post-war policies also forbid Chinese to own businesses and they were forced out of Seoul and out of the country. Today there are only 30,000 registered Chinese residents in Korea, with only about 500 still living in Chinatown.

Chinatown is very much a tourist area today and with the large number of visitors from China and all over the world who come to see this town, the Korean government decided in 2002 to revive and restore it. The cost of this restoration was approximately US$6.2 million (6.5 billion won).

2. Welcome to Chinatown, Incheon
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In the Chinatown sign above, a big bowl of Jajang-myeon can be seen. This is known as Koreans' favourite Chinese dish. This dish was also created right here in Chinatown. Living so close to a big port, a lot of sailors and labourers pass through this area. When the port opened the town flourished, so the residents created this simple and cheap dish for the harbour labour who pass through every day. Jajangmyeon is noodles with fried soybean paste, giving it the look of a black noodle dish. Sometimes pieces of meat and little pieces of vegetable such as carrots are also added. Chinese food in Korea is very Korean inspired and influenced as you can see below with the side dishes such as the kimchi (fermented cabbage). Living across the street from a Chinese restaurant means I can always get some Jajang-myeon when I want some. The Jajang-myeon Festival takes place in October over three days and is sponsored by Incheon City.

3. Jajang-myeon
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Chinatown is very colourful and alive. The colour red can be seen everywhere with Chinese lanterns, writing, dragons, pandas and murals decorating everything.

4. Some Chinatown views
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After walking around for a bit, we decided to go to one of the restaurants there. The restaurants in Chinatown are famous throughout Korea and many people travel there to eat at these restaurants. The queues outside some of the places were standing down the street. We decided on a smaller place with no queue. Having no queue is definitely no indication of a bad food quality as their food was amazing. We had Mandu (dumplings) and Seafood Noodle, which was a noodle dish with shrimp, calamari and mussels. You get tea with your food and as per Korean tradition, the water bottle on your table. The table next to us were eating Jajang-myeon like animals. Our menu did have some interesting choices as well...

5. Shark fin!!!
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When it started to get dark, we decided to go and bid Chinatown farewell. Chinatown is very much a little gem here in the hillside of Incheon. Unfortunately not all the residents here are Chinese. They restuarant owners speak Korean, and most are Korean. The food is very Korean style influenced, but none the less you still get a very Chinese feel when walking through this little town.

6. Goodnight Chinatown
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7. Look who came home with me...
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Posted by Anja Fourie 17:30 Archived in South Korea Tagged chinatown china south_korea korea incheon Comments (1)

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