Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A must-see Korean

A comic kimchi: The Korean acrobatic troupe Yegam's show mixes martial arts, slapstick humor and accomplished acrobatics

JUMP, the first martial arts dramatic performance in the world, is a creative combination of a variety of dazzling acrobatics and dynamic martial arts including taekwondo and taekkyeon – Korean traditional martial arts. Ever since it first hit the stage in July 2003 the show has been incredibly popular in Korea, drawing visiting and living foreigners from across the country to its Seoul theater every week. JUMP is a homegrown show targeting a global audience. Its exciting story is told in a non-verbal way, hence its remarkable international success. In 2005 and 2006 it took the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm, and then went on to tour around the world, ending up on London’s West End and New York’s off-Broadway.

Leaps, jumps and high kicks are set to an amusing storyline where the future (and very cute) son-in-law is coming to visit a family of martial arts masters. That night, a pair of clumsy thieves break into the house and engage in a battle with the martial arts family, and it's pure entertainment till the show's last minute.
I saw JUMP for the first time on September 12th (a Saturday) this year and am already planning on a second time! The performances are so entertaining that you wish the show would never end.

I managed to quickly shoot this short video of the end of the show until one of the ushers came over to me, very politely, and gave me the "not-allowed" Korean arm "X"ing sign. Oh well. :)

And here's a real cool long video I found on YouTube of the show in some other country. It doesn't say where it took place, but I read that it originally aired on some major television network.
Enjoy and try and JUMP along! ;)

Jump Theater, Seoul: After getting autographs from all Jump cast members, Indian Ph.D. student Sonia Henam poses for a picture with cute actor Yoon Sang Hee, who plays the shy-brave son-in-law in the show on scheduled dates. Sonia's words were simple, "I had a lot of fun!"

Location: Jump Theater (33-1 Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul)
The show runs daily with two performances every day. However, be aware that there are three performances on Saturdays and one on Mondays.
Check out the following websites for all the info:

Why people are coming from Japan to spend in Korea

In this recession where people are not spending money around the world, well here in Korea they are and a lot, especially in Seoul. However, most of that money is coming out of Japanese-owned wallets.
The funny thing is that even though the Japanese economy is emerging from recession, consumers are just not in the mood to spend in Japan. Therefore, they have been coming all the way to South Korea where their precious yen goes a lot further, actually.

Here's CNN's Kyung Lah's great report on this new data:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jinju: The charm of South Korea

My new home in this small-great country is a city not many people I've met seem to know about, and I am including Koreans themselves. However, the funny thing is that that is what makes this city even more special than it already is.

Located in southern Korea (1 hour away from Busan and about 1 hour 30 min from Geoge City), Jinju City, also known as "Charming Jinju", is quite small (712.62km2) with around 350,000 people living here. In the cleanest city I have seen in Korea so far, people praise its tranquility and coziness.

During this conversation I had the other day with a Korean taxi driver here, I mentioned how much I loved the city and its unique atmosphere. He then interrupted me by saying that Jinju was changing too fast, that things were getting "worse" here... I couldn't possibly imagine what he meant by all that, since I've only been here for a month now and Jinju seems perfectly fine to me: safe, clean and peaceful (if that's what you're looking for in a city). As he continued, with a tone of disappointment from a man who is originally from Seoul and chose Jinju to work and raise his family, he managed to make himself clear (his English was surprisingly good), "5 years ago there were not as many cars as today; I don't like this". He showed some anxiety, but then added, "but I still prefer to live here". Korea is indeed changing and growing too fast and that somehow ends up not favoring some people who try to escape from all the noise and stress in the big cities.

Despite all the changes, Jinju finds itself deeply immersed in the Korean culture and has beautifully managed to preserve for decades pivotal memories of one of the most important chapters in this country's history: the 1st Jinjuseong Battle (1592), one of the 3 great victories during Japanese invasion, which took place in the imposing Jinjuseong Castle - which is actually a fortress.
Located right along the beautiful and quite famous Namgang river, Jinjuseong looks like a paradise on Earth! Lots of green and huge trees everywhere, children playing freely all around, cute friendly elders resting the Korean way (sitting on the floor of one part of the castle, barefoot of course) and this amazing wide view of the river are all just some of this castle's greatest delights.

The castle's backyard features the modern Jinju National Museum, opened in November, 1984. In a fairly small movie-theater-like fancy room, right past the museum's entrance, a fun presentation video and a short animation movie about the 1st Jinjuseong Battle (both in native American English! - I was surprised) run every day in scheduled times. According to this fluent English- speaking female Korean guide, who introduced herself as Allie, foreigners from all over the world come down to visit the fortress and the museum every week. Well, I have proudly just become one of them.

- Schedule a guided tour around Jinjuseong Castle & Jinju National Museum with the fun English-speaking guide Allie: 82(0)16-9611-9491 (cell phone)
- Check out the following Web site for all about Jinju City:

I leave you with more photos I took on some beautiful sunny days in charming Jinju:

Korean-owned hostels and guesthouses will make you wanna postpone your flight home

In a number of ways, Korea knows just how to provide people with choices and the value of doing so. Choices that go from video/cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and all sorts of electronic gadgets and services to, well, nice affordable accommodations across the country. 
Fellow backpacker adventuring yourself in this amazing country, this one goes out to you. Guess what, hostels and guesthouses owned by fluent English-speaking Koreans (who have mostly lived abroad) all over Korea, happen to leave you with lots to choose from. Cozy, quiet-like guesthouses are really popular among foreigners of all ages, but probably just as much as BBQ/party-every-night kind of hostels are around here. 
So, check out this cool list of some of Korea's most popular hostels and guesthouses I've put together for you and just follow your taste:

- Click on their names for the web pages ;)

Seoul Hostels/Guesthouses
Hong Guesthouse

"A fun, comfortable and affordable guesthouse in the cozy central entertainment district of Seoul.
We offer our guests a friendly, interesting and vibrant environment."

-- I have actually stayed there already, met real cool people, had an awesome time and highly recommend it! 

Look for Sean, the ultimate Korean hostel manager :)
The whole staff are awesome, by the way. Whenever I go to Seoul, that's definitely where I'm gonna be staying.

In this picture, the house front. Lovely, huh?

Backpacker Mr. Sea
"1. Mr. Sea knows your needs because Mr. Sea is also a backpacker
2. You can easily find our hostel! Just 30 seconds after getting off the airport bus!
3. We have
many interesting tour programs
4. We also own a travel agency, so we can help you to check for and book flights and so on
5. Seee U Sooon!"

NAMU Guesthouse
"Namu Guesthouse is a very peaceful and cozy place in Hongik, just across the street from the university subway station (line 2). This is a very exciting and active place."

Busan Hostels/Guesthouses
Zen Backpackers
Latest guest review: "Amazing place. June is a great host and will help you have the perfect trip!"

Check out the common room in this picture!

Actor & Tourist Guesthouse
"Your best choice for a low budget trip to Busan, Korea!
Best location & convenient for transportation. Homestay."

Jeju Island Hostels/Guesthouses
Yeha Guesthouse
"Are you coming to Jeju? Looking for a nice place to stay?
'Yeha Guesthouse' will satisfy all your needs."

Tae Gong Gak Inn
"Tae Gong Gak Inn Youth Hostel is located on top of the famous waterfall, Cheon Ji Yon!

This list was just a little preview of all the cool options you'll find across Korea. You can now go ahead and explore the following websites for more than you thought existed:

To wrap this up, I must add that in Korea, hostel/guesthouse staff members are unusually kind, sweet and helpful and really enjoy interacting with their guests, unlike what you might experience in many other countries that may actually even be way more popular vacation spots than the ROK - which totally "ROKs", by the way.

Anyways, I hope you make a good choice and actually end up postponing your flight home ;) Happy trails!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Slow fun

Saturday fun at a slow pace

Life moves at a much slower pace in most Korean neighborhood parks on weekends, like in the park downtown Cheongju shown in these pictures I took a while ago.

On a typical Saturday the elderly (lots and lots of them) can be spotted in any of these parks from early morning to late afternoon, sitting on benches holding their canes, reading the day's paper, telling each other stories, playing traditional Korean games, walking around and even dancing to some made up melody played by a fellow elder street vendor 'scissor player'. ("what?") That's right, elder street vendors in Korea tend to be very talented in playing scissors (you really gotta see it to understand it) to attract people's attention to whatever they are selling. When well played, (I don't really know what that just meant. lol) the usually huge and rusty scissors, always one in each hand, make an interesting loud and powerful sound that will instantly grab your attention and most likely make you stop to watch the casual happy performance. Fellow foreigner, if you stop to watch these lovely entertainers by nature, yes they will try and do a little dancing for you as well, which never fails to make me smile, by the way. So, if you're shy, you might want to just smile and keep walking; but if you're not, since you've already stopped, why not enjoy the exclusive attention and dance along? If that's in a big city like Seoul, you might even end up in the paper or on TV!

To talk about Korean elders and not mention the huge respect and praise this society has for them, is a bit hard to do. It's all pretty much thanks to the Confucian system, which has taught for centuries a great respect and praise for elders in this country. The elderly here are often cared for by their so dedicated children and the general public always, I mean always, gives preferential treatment to their dear "할머니들" and "할아버지들" ("grandmothers" and "grandfathers"). Korea does feel like it's all one huge family, and it won't take long until you feel part of it too, I promise.

Look at the huge rusty scissors in the man in the red vest's hands

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Korea's BEST foreign-owned pubs await you! And so does '10 Magazine'!

We all looove to interact with the usually energetic (shy-at-first) Koreans in the filled-with-Hof-&-Soju-and-Coffee nightlife and of course challenge them to a few soju-bottle battles through the night =). But... how about walking in a pub in some Korean city and feel like you're right around the corner from your house back home sometimes? Well, nowadays Korea can actually provide you with the very best in that department. A kick-ass article brilliantly titled "Where They're Always Glad You Came", originally published in the July 2009 issue of 10 Magazine, a top English magazine in Korea (and my favorite one), lists Korea's 10 best foreign-owned pubs - and there's more, you can count on 10 Magazine for an annual list of the top 10 bars and even send out suggestions!
Finally, you can see 10 Magazine's list of 10 Foreign-Owned Bars here. Enjoy!

Watts on Tap - one of the top 10 listed in 10 Magazine