A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

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

2. Some Gunsan

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

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

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

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

4. Meeting the lead singer of Wagwak, Daehyun Kim

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

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

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

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

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!!!

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

7. Look who came home with me...

Posted by Anja Fourie 17:30 Archived in South Korea Tagged chinatown china south_korea korea incheon Comments (1)