A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
How about another long weekend? OK! October sure was a great month.
This is part 2 of my long weekend adventures. Click here for Part 1.
Jeonju Sori Festival
Accompanied by Reese, a Canadian English teacher from Iksan, we wandered around the very crowded Jeonju Hanok Village to check out the Jeonju Sori Festival – a 5-day event featuring all kinds of music.
The first thing we saw was a modern dance show incorporating Kpop, hip hop and strange experimental hip hop, performed by students from Jeonbuk University and some cute little girls who put my nightclub flailings to ultimate shame.
As Reese and I walked through the festival, a loud parade made its way to the middle of the hanok village.
Ajummas and ajeoshis in traditional and silly costumes, makeup and fake beards danced to the drums, waving to little kids and the crowd whipping out their selfie sticks. I’m sure there’s a story behind the costumes and the song, but I didn’t know what it was. To me, it was simply an act of joyous musical spontaneity.
Later that evening we saw a traditional gayageum performance. In the cold, still quiet of the night, the thumping janggu drum and strangely bluesy gayageum was hauntingly beautiful.
At the very end at the big stage was a drumming group made up of ajummas with synchronised dance moves and warrior-like cries in time with the beat.
I left the festival feeling a little bit more connected to my heritage – the heartfelt melodies, heartbeat drums and the colourful costumes made me feel right at home.
Seoul – Itaewon and Gangnam
Motherboard Productions are based in Brisbane and feature both Australian and Korean artists. I’ve seen some of their productions in Brisbane – the enchanting JiHa Underground and charming Ddokbokki Box, which transforms Brisbane art spaces into Korean bars. Motherboard actress Park Younghee appears in my radio documentary.
The crew came to Seoul to perform Deluge, a dance performance inspired by the Brisbane floods and Seoul’s Han River, so I thought I should support my fellow Brisbane Koreans by going to see it.
I came up to Seoul on Friday night to my strange guesthouse in Gangnam. It was actually on the top three floors of an office building above a pork BBQ restaurant, a noraebang and a photocopy shop.
I met up with my friend Jes – a Korean-Danish adoptee who used to work with GOAL, and was literally the first person I met in Korea – for dinner, and decided to check out the famous Garosu-gil in Gangnam for dessert.
“I want to show you Sinsa station,” said Jes.
I looked down the subway and saw a hall of plastic surgery ads. All the expressionless before and after photos of girls and boys with new eyes and cheekbones were a bit creepy.
I heard that Garosul-gil was a tree-lined street full of European cafes. Unfortunately, things must have changed since I read that particular account. It’s now full of luxury chain fashion stores that you can see all over the world. I was disappointed. But then we found waffles, and all was right with the world.
On Saturday, I met Steph – a Korean-Aussie adoptee journalist living in Seoul – for lunch in Itaewon. She took me to a restaurant called Coreanos, which served Mexican and Korean fusion food. I’m fascinated, but a little bit hesistant about Koreanised Western food – it can be very hit and miss, and doesn’t taste the way you imagine.
But Coreanos’s specialty kimchi chilli cheese fries was one of the best things I have ever eaten in Korea. Definitely worth a trip to Seoul just to eat it.
There was a festival taking up half of Itaewon so we walked down to take a look. Itaewon is famous for being the “foreigner” neighbourhood in Seoul. As well as catering to Westerners, Itaewon also features cuisine and shops from South America, Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. The festival set up little stalls to represent Itaewon’s diversity.
“Kinda like multicultural festivals back home,” said Steph.
Ajummas hacked up wiggling sannakji next to a Malaysian curry stall, women in beautiful Mongolian dress, an enormous rotating doner kebab and a Canadian cider brewery.
“Mashitge mokeoyo!” shouted a Turkish man waving an ice cream at the crowd.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t an Australian stall at the festival – but I was happy to see a few Australian cafes around the neighbourhood.
After a hectic subway and taxi run to Gangdong to see Deluge, I headed back to Gangnam to meet Sister 3 for dinner.
Gangnam looks very boring from the main streets – all glass buildings and shops featuring things I can’t afford. But it’s the alleyways where all the action is.
One side of the Gangnam alleyways is just restaurants. Sister 3 took me to a Jeju pork restaurant – although she was disappointed that I didn’t want to eat chicken feet.
“Do you want some soju?” asked Sister 3, just before ordering two big bottles of beer.
“Woah! Well… maybe later,” I said. “Will you drink soju?”
“Yes! I’ll drink soju!” said Sister 3. “I’m the Director of Alcohol!”
This woman and I are definitely related, I thought.
I surprisingly had an entire conversation with Sister 3 in English.
“I won an English prize when I was studying in a hagwon,” she explained.
“A-HA! You CAN speak English!” I roared jubilantly.
After dinner, Sister 3 took me back to the main streets of Gangnam…
… to meet her boyfriend! This was the boyfriend who lived in Brisbane for 6 years.
We ducked into another alleyway. On the other side was Gangnam’s bar and nightclub district. We headed downstairs into a silly bar called Bonjour – which was entirely Psy-themed.
I ordered a green apple-flavoured beer. Sister 3’s boyfriend and I talked about places we knew around Brisbane, while telling Sister 3 all about it. The boyfriend used to work at The Three Monkeys, a very popular tea house in West End in Brisbane. It was all a bit surreal.
There’s an expression my friends use called “getting Brisbane’d”. Brisbane is a small city and oddly interconnected through a network of school friends, university classmates, workmates, housemates, neighbours, bands, the barista at your favourite coffee shop, the bartender at your favourite bar, the people who share your particular interest – from punk bands to video games. Almost everyone I meet seems to have some kind of connection to Brisbane, no matter where they’re from.
Meeting your long lost Korean sister to discover that her boyfriend from Daejeon used to work at a Brisbane tea house? That’s a bit much when it comes to getting Brisbane’d.
“You probably served me tea once,” I said.
After our multicoloured beers, Sister 3 and her boyfriend took me to a cramped little soju bar.
Bars in Korea almost always serve food, from little crunchy snacks to entire meals. I was still full from dinner, but we ordered a plate of bulgogi anyway.
“This is where we first met,” said Sister 3.
Sister 3 and her boyfriend were set up ona blind date – quite common in Korea.
“I just knew…” Sister 3’s boyfriend smiled at her.
“And we drank a lot,” said Sister 3.
We ordered a few bottles of soju and talked, getting progressively louder and laughing more as the shots increased.
We wandered around Gangnam looking for somewhere to dance. A group of flailing women spun past us and it took me a while to realise what they were doing.
Three Korean girls were all pulling each others’ hair and punching each other. A boy jumped into the fray, trying to separate them.
“Wow. I didn’t expect to see that in Korea.”
The dance clubs in Gangnam were a bit expensive. So we ended up in what looked like a foreigner bar, but without any actual foreigners. It was playing My Chemical Romance.
“Songs from when I was in school,” I explained to Sister 3.
Coincidentally, some actual foreigners I know from Jeonju were in town and met up with us at the bar.
“All of your friends are guys!” said Sister 3, shocked.
In Korea, it seems that you can never be “just friends” with someone of the opposite sex. Something that finally clicked when I realised that Umma always asked “boy or girl?” whenever I told her I was meeting friends. If I answered “boy”, she’d ask “how old is he? what does he do?” I happen to have a lot of male friends. Ooh, scandalous.
“Yeah, I have heaps of boyfriends,” I joked.
Sister 3’s boyfriend left to go to sleep at his friend’s house. So she ordered a margarita with a Corona tipped into it.
At this point, Sister 3 was chatting away animatedly in English to my foreigner friends and I was boldly trying to explain things to her in Korean. It seemed our performance anxiety over speaking another language disappeared after a few drinks.
Sister 3’s boyfriend texted her after about 20 minutes. “Did you go home yet?”
Sister 3 took a selfie with the group of guys and sent it to him.
“No, I’m with my three boyfriends,” she typed.
And then it was 3am. I hugged Sister 3 goodbye and made vague plans to meet for lunch the next day. Which never happened, because we were both fast asleep.