Wednesday, October 16, 2013

K-Pop Festival in Gangwon

I attended the K-Pop Festival in Gangwon 2013 about three weeks ago on September 23rd, so forgive any lapses of memory (not that you'll be able to tell).

It was a phenomenal experience and I literally had a, "Is this real life?" moment when I was there.

To break it all down: free tickets were provided to the EPIK teachers in Gangwon-do and we just had to claim them when we arrived after making a reservation (which my lovely co-teacher Niko did).  It is possible to reserve and buy them as a foreigner, but there were already some set aside for us EPIKs so I didn't have to!

The festival was in Wonju, a city about an hour and a half from Gangneung.  I took a bus and arrived with about an hour and a half before seating for the concert would open.  I took a taxi to an acquaintance's house and dropped off my stuff.  He graciously gave me a spot of floor to sleep on and he was close to the stadium where the concert was held, within 10 minutes' walking distance.  He and a group of other people were also planning to go the K-Pop concert, but they backed out and decided they would rather have a barbecue to celebrate Braai day.  They invited me along, but I declined because how could I miss out on possibly the only K-Pop concert I may ever attend?

And knowing that Amanda would probably kill me if I didn't go.

So my acquaintance gave me the ticket he picked up earlier and I realized I was 10 minutes past when seating started so I ran out the door and headed over to the stadium.  I was really happy for my hoodie because it was chilly and sprinkling what almost seemed like snow (which it would continue to do the whole night).

I arrived at the stadium and after asking with a few words and gestures at the information desk outside, I followed the crowd of people to my gate and entered the stadium.  I used the huge colored map to find my seating area and then headed there.

I was directly in the middle of the stage, four rows back from the island stage.  To explain that a bit more: there was a normal rectangular stage and then a walkway/arm extended out from stage left and ended in an island that aligned with center stage but out in the crowd.  So I was pretty dang close and I can't believe he gave up that ticket.

There were opening acts by some small names in K-Pop, interspersed with the cover dance performances by the finalists from around the world.  They competed in sets of three and were offered comments by our three judges.  Let's be honest: I was entirely there for the actual artists, but some of the dance groups were phenomenal.  Even right down to the clothing for some of them!

The Judges.
A girl group from Nigeria that performed SHINEE's Lucifer.  Awesome job.
The American duo.  Easily one of the best and certainly the most
entertaining one of the night.

They performed a mix of EXO's History and Mama.
They actually did break dancing in this group!
SPOT ON with their outfits here.  So K-Pop-esque.
Girls from Japan did Crayon Pop.
And this was in the background during the chorus.  Great!

They did such a good job with the opening of EXO's Wolf!
And get this: I sat next to a PhD student in neurobiology (pretty sure it was neuro-) from France who spoke English (obviously), could speak Korean (enough to understand the announcers), and who was actually a competitor in the overseas competition, but had to forfeit due to some traveling issues with her group members.  She said she should have been up on that stage, but coming would have to do.  She also is a member of blog and reviews K-Pop choreography (she would do the dance moves in her seat some times which was awesome).

After they received a score out of 100 and it wasn't until every group performed that they announced the winners: "I Generation" from Indonesia who performed I Got A Boy by Girls' Generation.  Here is their online preliminary video.

One round of contestants getting scores.
The winners mid-performance.  FANTASTIC stage presence!

Here was their actual score.
And the actual video for reference:

Despite a late start hoping the rain would abate and being rained on the whole time, I got to see artists from small name A-Prince to big names like U-KISS and KARA.  Enjoy the pretty:

U-KISS was so close I could practically touch them.
The soldiers in the area had a section to themselves and they cheered so loudly whenever a girl performed or the female judge talked.  They chanted.  They cheered.  It was SO FUNNY.

At the end of it, as Claudia (my French friend) and I were stopped by someone from the Ministry of Culture for a video interview.  She had to leave to catch a taxi to the bus station, but I was interviewed and recorded.  He asked why I was in Korea, why I was at the K-Pop festival, what I thought about it, and why I liked K-Pop.

And then I practically skipped back to the apartment, falling asleep wishing Amanda had been around to share it with.

I woke up at 5AM the next morning and walked in the rain to the bus station (too early for taxis).  It was goo that I left by 5:15AM otherwise I might not have made it.  The walk took a very long time and I was dripping, walking in water-filled shoes by the end of it (read: miserable).

However, in the half hour or so that I was at the bus station before boarding, I had enough time for a "university student" to beg/pressure me for money which I just eventually gave to him so he would stop harassing me.  I was so uncomfortable and nervous and it's not like anyone would have helped me (they all kind of just watched), but in the end it was only 2000W thankfully.

By the time I got back to Gangneung after sitting soaked on the bus and then walking home rather than taking a taxi because I needed to visit Home Plus (which was closed) and the ATM (which was also closed), I was really miserable and freezing.  But, hey.  I can check something off my bucket list now.

P.S. - I saw Claudia on a commercial covering the festival about two weeks later.  If only the camera had gone a little more to the left I would have been on SBS too!

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