This year has been another whirlwind! In honor of the New Year, I’ll be doing a series of posts about my biggest adventures of the year, starting with my latest journey to South Korea. Here goes!
I arrived in the airport in Seoul like I usually arrive to another country. A little broke, a little confused, and more than a little excited. I was supposed to meet a friend in the airport, but we missed each other by a matter of minutes. After about an hour of calling attendants and being shuffled around the airport, I finally managed to contact the organizer of the festival I was attending. I didn’t have a phone, but he was on Facebook and he helped me to figure out the subway system and get on a train to the artspace. I’d had about 31 hours of travel time. Advice to travelers, if you get a cheap last minute flight watch out for layovers. I had 12 hours in San Francisco after a bus ride to NY and a six hour flight. No fun. But, I was finally in Seoul. One of the festival attendants picked me up and helped me to carry my bags. She was very sweet and understanding. And I saw Asia for the first time.
How to describe Korea. The buildings are like dollhouses. Not tall towering things, but every building has a million things inside. This building is four restaurants and an apartment space. This one has two shops and restaurant. They’re stacked on each other like legos, lit up like Christmas lights. It’s beautiful. I was terrified when I saw people walking down the streets in gas masks, but it was just the pollution. When we got to the art space, my body was worn, but we went to a welcome dinner in the restaurant underneath our hostel. Mmmm. Korean food is AHmazing. We went into the restaurant and took off our shoes. It was one of the sit on the floor kind of spots (not everywhere is like this). We had angry chicken and pork, soups all cooked right on the table. And we drank. Korean alcohol is a little different. Here we have 6% beers, 40% liquors, 14% wines, etc. There, they have soju, makkoli, and korean wine. Soju is a 20% alcohol that for some reason gets most people twice as drunk as whiskey. They call it “Happy Water”. An apt name. It tastes like water and I have had some very good soju nights. Then there’s makkoli. A white, milky alcohol that we’ll call an acquired taste. I haven’t quite acquired it, but I can drink it now without making a face. Then there’s Korean Wine, aka hangover central. Sugary sweet and 50% alcohol. I tried it once. Not recommended. Anyway my first night I learned the words “Soju juseyo” (ok I already knew this one, but it means soju please) and kambei! which is cheers. That night I ended up sitting on the floor of our hostel with my friends (there was a table right next to us) talking about art and life. A beautiful night.
It went that way while we were in Seoul. I knew a lot of the people there already from other festivals and those I didn’t know, I got to know quickly. Eating, drinking, art, talking, laughing. We were having a great time. It wasn’t until we flew to Jeju that the excitement started though.
Jeju is a small island between Seoul and Japan. They’re known for wind, water, and women. A strong shamanistic society too. We artists thought we’d be getting a work vacation in Jeju. Our hostel was right in front of a beautiful beach, everything smooth. It turned out, though that Jeju was a bit… traditional. Our organizer wanted us to tailor our performances to make the people on the island happy. Entertain them. The problem was, he’d invited a bunch of radical, political performers. The result was a huge fight that lasted for days. Performances cut short, cancelled, arguments. To him it was a matter of making people happy, to us it was a matter of making them think. I believe there’s substance to both of these, but personally, I don’t make work to entertain. I make it because I have something to say. Beautiful art needs to be made, it’s just that I don’t make my art to be beautiful. It was all miscommunication and hurt feelings, but in the end, I felt better after making a performance that err expressed my feelings (which at the time could have been summed up in two words ‘fuck that’).
Luckily, though, we were all friends before and art arguments don’t kill friendships most times. The night after our performances, we were invited out by the market owner to dinner, his treat. EX-PEN-SIVE. It was $50 a table and we had about 6 tables. To give you a comparison, we’d been using $6 meal tickets and eating big, delicious meals all week. Mmm the food. Beef slices so thick I could barely look at them. Vegetables everywhere. Sashimi. Squid (terrible). It was amazing. Then we went out to karaoke, his treat again. We walked into our room and there were full whiskey bottles on every table and beer and food. Everyone started cheering when we walked in and we hugged everyone. If you have never done karaoke in Asia, you have never done karaoke. They take it seriously, so you don’t just talk and drink while people are singing in the back. It’s like being at a concert where everyone’s the star. You get up and dance while everyone sings, or listen if it’s not danceable. My friend and I shut the house down with Toxic by Britney Spears. I ended up on my knees rocking out, because people started climbing up on the stage and rolling around, and the wires got tangled. I have never felt like more of a rockstar.
Of course, it turns out that our patron was a Korean mob boss. Yup… So… that happened. Another of my friends had fallen in drunken love with one of the Korean girls and we were trying to get her to come with us. She wanted to, but she kept saying there would be problems. I asked my friend who spoke Korean what the problem was, and she casually told me, “oh he’s in the mob”. I grabbed my punch drunk friend and put us all into cabs. You gotta know when to end a night.
All in all though, I loved my Korea adventure. The culture was different and difficult, but with friends and people you love, you can appreciate the beauty of the city. Stay tuned, next time I’ll tell about adventure in Europe 🙂