Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fighting the Bull about Korean Bullfighting at Cheongdo

video
When I told a friend of mine that I was going to watch bull fighting in Korea, I got the "No thanks! I puked my guts out when I went to a bull fight in Spain." What is controversial about bullfighting in Latin Cultures is totally absent from the bull fighting contests in South Korea. I had made an earlier posting about attending this cultural event that is an annual event in Cheongdo, South Korea. I had heard stories that were akin to dog fights, complete with gratuitous violence. There was even some outcry about boycotting this event from some of our expatriate community members. I took all of this into consideration. I weighed it out. If what was said was true, I had to go because it would totally oppose my view of Korean culture as peaceful and incredible respectful of life. It didn't matter what anyone thought, I am here in Korean to take in as much as I can while I am a guest in this country.

I am very happy to report that some of the reports that I had read had to be written by individuals who had only heard these 'foreign folk tales' and failed to see the beauty of this contest. They obviously never went and only reported hearsay accounts, overlaid their own prejudices to discredit this event.
I saw the handlers treat the animals with a respect that was returned by the animal. These matches are matches of the beast's strength. There is a reason these contests have endured for over one thousand years...they are indeed entertaining and have the spirit of sportsmanship. The oxen are valued creatures in the rural communities, and for their livestock to be mistreated for brutality sake would be viewed by Koreans as incredible waste.
A match is started by the handlers (trainers) guiding the bulls towards each other with a single rope. When the bulls are engaged the rope is disengaged. The match is immediately ended when a bull retreats. What this equates to is little more than a shoving match, where the most violent episode occurs with the initial contact of the bulls meeting each other with force and locking horns.
I invite you to watch the video, which took forever to upload. You will hear not a blood thirsty crowd, but laughter and you will see respect for the display of power of these magnificent animals. Perhaps these kinds of contests would be far better than the sheer slaughter of the Latin bull fighting rings we see in the west. There is no sport to watching the slaughter of animals.

I continue to be amazed at what I find here in Korea...and glad to debunk all of the nay-sayers. Never believe anything that is by word of mouth or through established rumour mills. When in doubt, always check it out for yourself. There will always be someone who says you shouldn't do something or go somewhere. Follow your own path.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Fire Eater and a Butcher Shop...Am I missing something?

My odd moment of the day...

In my neighborhood, there are the usual businesses. You have a grocery story, the hair dressers, and restaurants...a few local bakeries and a butcher shop. Asia is known for their neon displays...overloading you visually, so it sometimes takes a little fire to grab your attention.

As I was on my way to another appointment, I saw this site that stopped me dead in my tracks. The loud throbbing house music didn't grab my attention...your senses get a little dulled to the noise.
However, I have to say...seeing a man, dressed as a woman chasing around people with flaming batons and doing fire eating demonstrations, just goes to show you one way to get someone to notice that your business is NOW OPEN.
The truth is, this shop has been open. It wasn't a new business, perhaps under new ownership and they were looking for that gimmick that said..."HELLO! WE ARE HERE AND WE WILL DO ANYTHING TO GET YOU TO NOTICE US!" I thought it was a little extreme, and then I stopped and realized it worked. I will never forget them. Though fire-eating has little to do with a butcher shop...sometimes the fire eaters are required to get the job done when it comes to marketing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Word of the day...Mantoss

You wouldn't believe the trouble I went through just to shoot this image from the back of a taxi. I was on my way home from downtown Daegu and happened to glance out the window while at a red light. Of all of the safety devices I have seen, I had never seen one so appropriately worded. I have no idea if this was intentional, nor if the front of the vehicle had this splashed all over the front of the push bar...but the word mantoss caused all kinds of Death Race 2000 images to flood my imagination.

Since pedestrians do not have the right of way, at least not that I am aware of, the use of the word mantoss not only serves as a warning, but also describes the action of being tossed upon collision. Another fine example of how language is used here in Korea...and mass produced with millions not knowing what the meaning is, or perhaps they do.

Meanwhile the taxi driver observed me from his rear view mirror and wondered why I would roll down my window just to shoot a picture of a back of a car. I just smiled and said, mantoss...Nee Nee....and shook his head still not understanding a word.

The light turned green.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Value of a Rice Cooker

Maybe it's just me that I find this totally absurd. Partially because in the west you just didn't see rice cookers priced over $100. Typically you can pick one up for less than $50 in the states, but they are not used that often and are often seen as a waste of space. Most people in the west prepare rice the old fashioned way, they use a pot...simmering it for the typical 20 minutes and you are finished.
However, here in the east, a rice cooker, is not just a rice cooker. Most of them are outfitted with microcomputers, have automatic presets, and are used at least once daily. Rice is nearly a part of every meal. Rarely is long grained rice used, with short grained rice prepared. The price of a 2 kg bag of rice is about 8 times the cost of a loaf of bread from a bakery.
I almost felt like asking if there were blue tooth devices, clock radios, or mp3 players loaded on these premium pressure cookers...and you know I do think I did see one with an MP3 player. The most expensive one I found was close to 1,000,000 won. I don't know if rice cookers were elevated to status symbols, almost like coffee makers are in the west, but that seems to be the case here.

Now a coffee maker here in Korea...is viewed as absurd. They sell instant coffee in convenient 'sticks'. 'Why would you need a coffee maker?' A salesperson asked me. Exactly my point about these Cadillac rice cookers, a pot for less than 20 dollars works just as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bullfighting...in Korea??

For over 1000 years there has been a tradition of bull-fighting in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province of South Korea. That tradition continues in an annual festival that runs from 27 - 31 March 2009 in Cheongdo-gun that will pit Korean teams against Japanese teams.

I myself, don't know quite what to make of this event. If it will be a larger version of pit bulls fighting each other since it is beast against beast...but was actually amazed to even see something like this, just 45 minutes south of Daegu.

I decided to attend this event for many reasons...it is part of South Korea's history...and it quite honestly is a bit shocking to me, and finally not a lot of people are even aware that this event even occurs. I have met ex-patriots that have been here for years who never realized that bullfighting was a celebrated event.

The Cheong Du Bullfighting Festival at the Sossaum (Bullfighting) Stadium, will have over 100 bulls in the competition, and though they describe this event as a sport, there are reports of bulls given soju prior to 'fighting' in the ring. Disturbing, perhaps, but most certainly this is an aspect that should still be explored...that conflicts with a passive view that most might have about Korean culture.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La Traviata - Daegu Opera House


It's Saint Patick's Day...the only thing green I am wearing is a necklace with a green heart as the focal point. Instead of listening to 'Danny Boy' in an Irish Pub (hmmm, maybe I should put that on my list of things to find) in South Korea...I opted to attend an Opera. In Daegu, they happen to have one of the most incredible Opera Houses I have ever seen (haven't seen Sydney's yet)and they just happened to be playing Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata...one night only...as part of their "Spring Love" series.

I arrived early enough to take an interior shot...an amazing four balconies...with incredible acoustics. Yes, it is an incredibly beautiful facility, that made me wonder if the performance would hold up. I waited in anticipation and was dutifully reminded that I of course could not photograph the performance...sliding my camera back into my purse. I sat back with my notebook on the main floor...seated center stage fifteen rows back. Close enough and far enough away for perfect viewing and hearing.

I was incredibly impressed with the performance...and shocked. The staging seemed so minimal, but somehow it worked. It modernized this classic and while the character Violetta (played by Se-jin Lee) was dying...there was a type of Martha Graham style dancer in the background. For whatever reason this extra bit heightened the drama in the scene. Kudos to Mi-ji Choi for the incredible stage direction. The whole cast was incredible, but what surprised me was the rather sedate nature of the audience...it was by western standards a tough crowd.

The orchestra, conducted flawlessly by Jin-mo Yang...had every bit of emotion pouring through with the right amount of technical expertise.

The cast definitely had the voice for this venue...and the true test was simple. I closed my eyes and just listened and didn't feel like I was in Korea anymore. They were voices without origin...it was the music that came through, in all of its heart rendering emotion.
As people left at the end of the performance, I lingered to take a few more shots, and to my delight I met a few of the cast members who came out to greet the stragglers and some of the media.
Seong-shuel Kim who played Germont. He brought out the largest reaction from the audience.
Ji-young Sohn, who played Annina.
and this incredible voice, Sang-bo Song who played Gastone. The frail Flora was play by Ji-sun Kim and Man-soo Kim played Barone.

South Korea just continues to surprise me...as my adventure continues...here in Daegu.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Double Take

There are reasons I always walk around with a camera. You just never know what will cross your path...or whose path you will cross.
It was a quiet Sunday, and I was walking home...and at first sight I thought these girls were promoting an adult club. They really weren't all that thrilled about performing...it was a gig. In between their dance sets, they would plug the appliance store...and I only could imagine what they were saying..."Step right up folks" just seemed totally out of step with gyrating hips. Even the day seemed out of step.
Yet, here they were performing...without a soul in sight for an appliance store. I guess I will have to say that is possibly the reason they weren't smiling. Karaoke machine and house music...and no crowd on a Sunday afternoon in Daegu.

You really don't know what you will find just walking down the streets in Korea...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Crap Art - Final Thoughts

"A separation between artist and non-artist is irrelevant. When it comes to the creation of art, the thought process should come second to emotions and feelings. Thought process is not required to make art, only creation. For 24 hours, art will be created by you. The old, the young, the hip, the square, the Korean, the Foreigner, the Artists, The PEOPLE will create art without process, without preparations, only feeling." CRAP ART DAEGU Mission Statement
As I went back to Club That, up to the fourth floor to take final pictures, I wandered from room to room, originally planning on posting a room a day. I saw some rooms that became more of less...and less of more. There were some that went way over the edge...and others that seemed well...no comment. However, this isn't about posting a critical review. It is about what was accomplished. It was why I decided to blog about this event over the weekend.

What a group of people did here in Daegu was they came together and raised money to help families that are providing for the care of orphans in this city. As one viewer wrote on the wall, "I'm just watching"...I was, but also in some small way I hoped to share with all of you what can be done if you just do it...
This event was very much like the life experience of so many...you have a choice. Show up and make a difference...or do nothing at all. We didn't sit on our hands...we showed up sharing different perspectives and just created.
As you can tell...this was not an art show...not a gallery showing...no bottles of wine uncorked while the tinkling of piano keys are playing in the background. Of the ex-patriot community, South Africa, United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, United States, and I am certain quite a few others in addition to the South Korean Hosts...came together and there were no politics...it was a raw human event.
There were gems, like Woman Dancing Naked by Emma Lord on display...
and others without a title that just came, created and left no name or number...no title. What is Crap Art? It just simply was...and it is my hope that we will see more of these events throughout the world. In my view, this was an incredible success that achieved everything they envisioned.

For a moment, just put down the critics notebook and feel art again.

The Importance of a Towel

"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc, etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with. "
The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, Douglas Adams

On my quest to find the question to the answer, 42, which happens to be my age...I reflected on this quest...and was reminded of the quest when I went to Home Plus today and had a thought occur to my mind. This thought, which to anyone in the west...would laugh...because it is something you have plenty of...the full size bath towel.

This little bit of information I will share with you...if you ever come to South Korea (or anywhere in Asia...just to be safe), never assume you can just pick something up. If it is a comfort item you think you will readily find...pack it and take it with you. However...this seemingly ordinary advice from my bible...The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy about always taking a towel with you was ignored. I after all was not seeking to leave the planet...just my country.

When I arrived in South Korea, and was rounding up the necessary items...one does this as they settle in...I was asking for a towel. "A towel...of course we have towels." and I was shown a towel that in the states would be known as a hand towel...I laughed thinking this was a mistake.

That was in January. Today, getting back to the persistent thought in my mind...of if I was a towel...where would I be...and of all places the grocery section of Home Plus (Korea's Walmart) I looked down on a bottom shelf and saw full sized bath towels...and about peed with joy.

Since I am also 42, and have adored Douglas Adams since I was a child...I believe now that I shall have to find a new copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy...my favorite Trilogy in Five Parts. A reminder to all...Don't Panic.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Final Preps - Shaping of Works

As I have shared with you, this event has been a compressed 24 hours of community creation in Daegu, South Korea. The venue, the fourth floor of an expat club...Club That. The mecca of the creative personalities brimming over with life. The goal of this adventure was to bring the community together...pulling some out of their isolation.
Some would say the art is crap. Some would say there are gems here. The final result was I saw a lot of artists just simply come together to feel the joy of creating something again.
There were those with immense talent who just simply came, did their bit and were gone. There were those who labored without sleep.
There were those who used whatever was offered to them, and those who had deeper messages in their work.
I saw incredible potential in these walls, for art, for people that were from all over the world to just do something together. This was an incredible coming together.
I would like to think for most people in the arts, that all would go well. The truth is, most in the arts wind up having to shelve their dreams and do something else for various reasons, even if they are insanely talented.
This provided for many an opportunity to just create.

To send a message.
To show the rest of us...it can be done...within 24 hours.
I am going to head back...to show the final results, room by room over the next week. What I can tell you, is that it has been an experience blogging by the hour and sharing with you a part of my weekend.

Life can be extraordinary...if you make it that way.

Phase Three: Props of Installations

When most people look at a chair, they see a functional piece of furniture. When an artist looks at a chair or any other object most see what that object could be in their imagination. As I walked around, I looked at the interesting playthings that were brought.
A toy gun on the floor...

An arm with the hand positioned perchance with a vulgar gesture.
...there are these scenes of infinite possibility.
Yes...there is more to follow...

The art of words....the show continues

My friend with the blue hands finished her work to render this piece. A face to go along with the verses of embedded meaning. A personal effort of personal emotion...one can only hope.
An outright creative statement...to declare what an artist tried to do.
Another set of words that were all about Gordon...a man who is from the state of Ohio. Gordon is also a Gin.
And here you wonder if these are words of the sake of words. that someone would read or ignore.
One, a declaration of worry.

The other, prose in a corner that makes the wall look like a greeting card. One can nod and smile, or pull out their reading glasses and just see if they can connect for a moment in these rooms.