A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Hi Seoul! ~ The Soul of Asia

First real visit to Seoul and my birthday in Itaewon

overcast 18 °C

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It is still cold out, but not as drastic as two weeks ago. Spring is finally settling in and my hands are freezing less and less. Today is the day I make my very first trip to Seoul. My first time using public transport in Korea as well. Still without a phone, I have to rely on a little map of the subway I tore from a magazine. This does get me to Bupyeong station where I meet my friends. From here on, people who seem much more adapt in navigating things like subways, take over to get us to Seoul. We arrive in Myeongdong late afternoon and meet more of our friends there.

South Korea has an excellent metro system, the Seoul Metro. I live near Dongincheon station which is the first stop on the Rapid Line. This means that there are two trains leaving form Dongincheon station. One to your left and on to your right. The train on your left is the slow train and stops at every station on the way to Seoul. The train on your right is on the Rapid Line. This train only stops at every third or fourth station. It is called the Yongsan Rapid as the train does stop at Yongsan station. The Rapid train takes approximately 45minutes to Yongsan while the slow train will take about 60minutes. From Yongsan you can take a taxi for as little as 4000won to for example Itaewon if you do not feel like transferring to another train.

1. Tea in Myongdong, Seoul
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2. Wandering the busy streets
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3. Galbi dinner
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4. Animals in Seoul ~ Very often you will see promotion people dressed up in animal suits.
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5. Bosingak Bell Tower

While walking back from the restuarant to get a taxi, I spot a building in the background. The group is in a big rush as we are on our way to a club in Itaewon. I quickly pose for a picture. This is the Bosingak Bellfry. It was built in 1396 to notify the residents of Seoul of the opening and closing of the city gates. Every morning it would ring 33 times at 04:00am. The 33 signifies the 33 cheon (Heaven) of Buddhism. In the evening the bell rang at 7:00pm for 28 times for su (the stars). The building has been destroyed many times by fire, Japanese occupation and the Korean war. The actual bell is preserved in the National Museum. A replica was installed in 1985.

Today the bell is not rung daily anymore. There are New Years parties held here and every year at the strike of midnight, the bell will be rung 33 times. During this time, the area is so busy and so popular that the station closest to the bellfry is closed. The train simply passes it and does not stop for any passengers to get off.

We make our way to a taxi, get in and soon we arrive in Itaewon. The two areas are very close to each other. It is much more cheaper by train, but will take you a little while longer as the taxi is quick and direct. The club that we are visiting is called Helios. Entrance is paid for by one of the boys, we conveniently check our coats in at the entrance and we are ready to go. When the clock strikes twelve, I also celebrate my 23rd birthday in Seoul!

6. Birthday Time!
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7. Awesome birthday cake from my co-teacher
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In other news, a friend took me to traditional Korean dinner in that week. The food is so much that it feels like no one will ever be able to finish it. This is what an ultimate traditional Korean dinner looks like.

7. Traditional Korean Food
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TOP TIP: Get a Seoul Metro App on your phone as soon as possible. If you do not have a smartphone or no phone at all, print out the metro system. This will come in very handy when navigating the subway as you will have to get off the trains and transfer many times.
I RECOMMEND: Metroid App for Android. Or, get the printable maps here.

Posted by Anja Fourie 22:21 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea seoul subway korea incheon bosingak seoul_metro itaewon myongdong galbi dongincheon yongsan express_train rapid_line Comments (1)

Arriving in Incheon, South Korea

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

overcast 15 °C

The hour bus journey from Seoul felt like it took two minutes. Within another 30 seconds my bags were out of the bus, and I was sitting next to my new co-teachers in the hall at Incheon Department of Education. Sarah, from the Incheon Municipal Office of Education (IMOE), is mostly in charge of us english teachers in Incheon.

In this hall, I meet my two English co-teachers. They are Mrs.Kwan and Miss.Lim, who I just call Soo. Her full name is Lim Soo-Young (the Korean surname first) and she jokes that she's lucky that her real name sounds like the English name Sue. This means she didn't have to choose an English name for herself. Sarah's speach is over and my co-teachers lead me to Mrs.Kwan's car outside. All my orientation friends are leaving with their respective co-teachers and suddenly it feels very real. The orientation bubble we were in from the past week just burst and nerves are settling in.

Driving to my school takes about 10 minutes from the Education Office. I am teaching at Insung Girls Middle School. It is a semi-private school which means it has more money than most schools. I will only learn this later as I see the state of the buildings of some other schools and realise that being treated to lavish dinners and giving gifts to all the staff members is not the norm in all schools. I soon realise that I am privileged to be working at a school like this. The school is part of a school complex. Insung High, Middle and Elementary are all on the school grounds. It is a Christian School which means we also have a church on the grounds. Every Wednesday morning the entire Middle School attends church. It is in Korean of course, so I mostly just sit and watch.

1. Staff Photo taken at 60 year anniversary of Insung Middle School
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Miss.Lim, my young co-teacher is standing right next to me. My principal is in front with the blue jacket, and my other co-teacher Mrs.Kwan is standing right behind my principal, to her left.

2. Insung Middle School (left), Elementary (Middle), High (Right)
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In school there is an English Zone. The kids come down to the class to have English here. The English Zone consists of a classroom, cafe area, kitchen area and two noreabangs (Korean karaoke room). I also have my own little office here which I share with no one. All the other teachers sit in the staff room upstairs. View the video of my English Zone here.

3. English Zone and my office
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After meeting everyone and being introduced to the principal and vice-principal, I am taken to my apartment for the first time. Every step down the hallway is met by girls screaming when they see me. All the girls wear the same shoulder length black hair and their school uniforms are adorably cute with their skirts, blazers and little ties.

4. My Girls in Uniform
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My school is a 5min walk from where I live. I have to be at school at 8:30 every morning, so I leave at approximately 8:20 and take a casual stroll up the hill and I'm still early. My building is called Portview Officetel. It is situated in Jungangdong, Jung-gu. The building is right near the port as the name states. You can even hear the ship horns at night. My window unfortunately does not look out to the ocean side, but into the neighbourhood. My building has a restaurant, convenience store, billiards club and Screen Golf. Watch the video of my apartment here.

5. Sports Day at my School
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My co-teacher tells me of the girl who lives in my building. She is the English teacher at the High School and we share a cafeteria, but I haven't seen her yet. I live in Apartment 315 and she live in Apartment 317. During my first week she knocks on my door and takes me out for my very first Korean Galbi dinner. Galbi is a sort of Korean barbeque. They bring you the raw meat with a lot of side dishes. You then cook this meat yourself on a coal grill in the middle of your table. You also receive a lot of side dishes with your meat.

6. First Galbi Dinner
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This girl who knocked on my door has become a very close friend of mine. So far from home everyone here needs friends who will become your family. Living so close together, teaching so close together, eating together every day and going out together every weekend, has resulted in a close relationship. Here's a shout out to Taryn van As for introducing me to Incheon and the whole new world that is Korea!

7. Cherry Blossoms outside our schools
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Posted by Anja Fourie 01:02 Archived in South Korea Tagged apartment south_korea flat housing incheon teaching_english epik insung Comments (2)

The Land of the Morning Calm

My journey to Korea and an EPIK Orientation

rain 10 °C

August 2008, Career Day, Stellenbosch University.
It's almost Spring time in South Africa and thousands of high school students are swarming the university campus for career day. As a first year, I am casually strolling back to my residence with my roommate. We look at some of the displays without much interest while we wait for our Iced Lattes. On the way out of the building, a woman dressed in traditional Asian clothing (which I would only much later learn to be a traditional Korean hanbok), hands me a flyer. Generally I hate having flyers pushed in my hand. I almost throw it away but put it in my bag, so as not to offend her.

Later that evening I am unpacking my bag and find the flyer. My roommate and I joke about the sayings on the front, especially the one about "Blazing Fast Internet!". But I did read the rest of the flyer and somewhere something clicked in my head. It wasn't enough for me to realise it yet, but it was enough for me not to throw away the flyer. Although I didn't realise it at the time or even thought that it could be a reality a few years down the line, this is where my Korea journey began.

June 2010, Winter Holiday, Port Elizabeth
While in Port Elizabeth for the holidays I visit a friend's grandmother with him. While there she tells us about these dolls that she made to raise money for the home she is staying at. The dolls were in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and all of them were representing the teams in the World Cup. Being a generous grandmother, she showed us the only two that was left and said we could have them. A South African doll and a South Korean doll. I wasn't biased to any doll and as my friend said he wanted the South African doll, I just took the South Korean one. I kept it and put it away in my drawer of mysteries.
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At the end of 2010 I finished my degree, emptied my room at University and brought a million things back home, I decided to clean out my room and throw out. Black bags were filled pretty quickly as old notes, papers, posters, nonsense trinkets, clothes and things I didn't want anymore got thrown. Through all this cleaning, a pamphlet and a long lost little Korean doll popped up. Sitting on my floor, it all suddenly came together. I do believe the universe gives you signs. Would I be dumb to ignore these signs? I decide then and there to do it and go to Korea.

After a year of working, saving, going to Europe and then eventually quitting my job for Korea, I am now here in the Land of the Morning Calm.

1. Korean work visa
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EPIK is the English Program in Korea. This is a government funded Ministry of Education program that places teachers in Korea. On the application, a possible three choices were given for placement in Korea. I chose Incheon as my first choice and then two random provinces as my second and third choices. While on holiday in Mozambique, I checked my email and was so extremely happy to find out that I got my first choice Incheon as placement. Unfortunately you do not find out your school or area until the very last day of orientation.

Arrinving at Incheon airport on 19 March 2012, I'm tired and irritated after the longest flight in life. More than a day travelling, I felt like killing every Korean in sight. We did meet up with the EPIK co-ordinators quite soon and boarded the bus to Seoul. This bus takes approximately 1.5 hours from the airport as it is raining and traffic was heavy. Seeing Korea for the first time, I struggled against falling asleep in the bus. We arrived there soon enough. In Seoul, Spring has supposedly already come, but my fingers are freezing off.

2. Welcome
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The EPIK orientation consisted of about 5 days of lectures from early in the morning to late at night. Lectures consisted of Curfews of 12pm were put on the dorms and every night we had to work on our lessonplans that we had to do at the final day of orientation. The whole group was divided into four classrooms. These classes consisted mostly of people going to the same cities. I was part of Class 1-B. I even learnt how to write my name in Korean.

3. Korean class
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4. Teaching our Lesson
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In the end our group drew in votes with another group in our class for best lesson.

After all of this stress and planning and lessons, we had some fun. EPIK took us on a Field Trip to Namsan Traditional Village. Here we wore Hanbok, the traditional Korean clothes, learnt a Korean dance, made rice cakes, and watched a performance by some traditional Korean performers.

5. Field Trip
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6. Super stylish dad and son
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For our last evening before heading out to our different areas and schools, we were taken to Marisco's Seafood Restaurant which has a massive buffet. Eating here was almost bad, because you simply have to leave out so many things as you cannot have everything. I could only manage two plates, which you can see both look wildly different.

7. Marisco's Buffet
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After dinner, everyone headed back to the dorms to pack for departure the next day. The next morning we had a simple ceremony thanking everyone for their hard word. We also got our medical results back with a printed out photo of our groups and a ceritificate stating that we completed the hours for orientation. As everyone got into their seperate busses, nerves and excitement started to pile up. Soon, we would meet out new co-teachers, see our schools and our little apartments. Korea suddenly became very real and exciting.

Posted by Anja Fourie 21:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea dolls teaching_english epik epik_orientation land_of_the_morning_calm Comments (2)

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