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Beolcho: A Korean Tradition Of Maintaining Ancestral Grave Mounds.

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Ancestral grave mounds can often be seen when travelling around Korea, from the large meticulously maintained royal tombs to the small ones spotted on hillsides in the distance. Even if you see an overgrown tomb it is highly unlikely that it is not cared for at least a couple of times a year and particularly before the major holidays of Lunar New Year and Chuseok.

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Beolcho is the name for the traditional weeding, pruning, grass cutting, and general maintenance needed to keep each tomb in good shape and to honor those that are buried there. Families come together sometime before the holiday to work on making the ancestral grave mounds look well cared for in preparation for the ancestral rights and the family’s paying of their respects to their ancestors.

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With Chuseok being just a couple of weeks away, people all around Korean are preparing for Chuseok and the custom of Beolcho will be occurring all around the nation. (Some families will pay a company to cut the grass etc, while yet others will do it in the morning before the ceremonies, however, an old saying castigates those people by saying “those who Beolcho late are not rightful descendants.”)

This year (2017) the Chuseok holiday period lasts 10 days because of when it falls on the calendar. Sept. 30th is a Saturday, and Oct. 1st a Sunday, the 2nd is a government holiday. the 3rd, 4th, and 5th are Chuseok, the 6th is National Foundation Day, then the 7th and 8th are the weekend and finally Monday 9th is Hangul Day. This means many more Koreans than usual will be able to visit their families and some are even planning to go on vacation.

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Chuseok is somewhat like a cross between the American Thanksgiving holiday and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. It, and other holidays, hold great cultural significance to most Koreans and even if there have been slight changes from past practices it is still one of the most important times of the year, and a great deal of preparation goes into it, not least is the custom of Beolcho.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Seollal: Korean New Year,   The Game Of Yut,  Geune Ttwigi,    and Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

All photos credits to original owners. Photo 1 Elle Marzec, all others to Yonhap News Agency.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

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Taeyang White Night Concert In Dallas.

 

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Texas has been really lucky this year with quite a few Kpop concert tours stopping in either Dallas or Houston. There has been everything from less popular groups like JJCC at small scale venues, to mega stars like G.Dragon performing at the arena sized Houston Toyota Center. Taeyang chose the Bomb Factory where label mate CL performed late last year. A mid sized venue in the popular Deep Ellum district of Dallas, the Bomb Factory is a great size for a solo artist like Taeyang. Large enough to contain a loud and gloriously vocal crowd, but intimate enough so even those further back could still see him and feel his mesmerizing presence.

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But the day began a long time before we ever got into the venue. I arrived a little before 10am and already a long line had begun to form for the platinum ticket holders, with a smaller line for the P1 fans. Some fans had staked out their places in line at 5am, and many fans travelled hundreds of miles to be there for Taeyang. I managed to make a couple of new ‘line buddy’ friends which is one of the cool things about Kpop fans, they always seem to be friendly and welcoming, which meant I was able to go eat lunch etc without worrying about my place in line. While the platinum line was fine there was some organizational problems with the other lines as the signage was unclear except at the very front, but in general there didn’t seem to be too many problems.

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Platinum got to go in early for the sound check which meant being in the air conditioning which was wonderful, but what was even better was Taeyang. He came out and sang to us, just us, not to the rest of the empty space behind us. He looked at us, made eye contact with us, and smiled. He teased us and joked with us and sang to us. It really felt personal and that was a marvelous feeling. Of course we hated it when he left to go back stage, but we knew that the concert ahead was going to be amazing. I was fortunate to be second row back, even if over to one side. (Bonus points if you can spot me in the above photo.)

Taeyang spoke his opening remarks in wonderful, barely accented English. He teased the fans a little and exhorted them to louder and louder screams as he said it was his first time in Dallas and that he had heard that they were passionate and ‘loved our music’. He then asked ‘is it true’ and the fans went really wild in their reply. He asked everyone to show him ‘love and passion’ and I can truly say that is what he received. The Dallas fans were loud, happy, and decidedly passionate.

During the course of the evening he sang most of his popular songs, with classic bops like Ringa Linga and Good Boy interspersed with slower tempo ones. He treated us all to his keyboard skills when he played and sang Last Dance and that was probably the quietest point in the whole concert as fans respectfully listened to his keyboard introduction before he began to sing. One huge point is that Taeyang sounded better live than in recordings. His voice was truly beautiful, soft and sweet at times, and then at other times powerful and intense. It also had a warm mellowness that wrapped around you and drew you into the emotions of each song. It wasn’t the voice of a boy but of a man, mature and complex, with depth and soul.

He seemed to favor the opposite side of the stage to us, but we weren’t totally ignored and he came over our way a few times. He even made eye contact with me….at least that’s what I believe. He smiled and teased the front row coming quite close at times, and even touched a few hands from the stage. He seemed to be enjoying himself which made his fans all the more responsive. He asked us to sing along at times, and many fans sang the Korean lyrics with ease. I think he was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm of the Dallas crowd.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and so too did the concert, but he went out with a bang, literally. Both Bang Bang Bang and Fantastic Baby were part of his encore set and that drove the crowd into a frenzy. It was crazy, everyone was dancing and singing along. The fans really did almost raise the roof, so just as well the Bomb Factory was originally just that, a bomb and munitions factory. Anything less and I think Taeyang and the Texas fans would have blown the walls out. What a night, and what a concert, and one of the best things is he said he would come back.

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After the concert the platinum fans were fortunate enough to be allowed to ‘send off’ Taeyang. After the chaos of the the barricade being moved, most fans were not in the front row, however the line was perhaps only 3 or 4 deep along much of its depth. I was fortunate to be 2 back and my friend twisted sideways to allow me the opportunity to get this photo. I pointed out the Ring Linga patch, and he asked, ‘is this me’? His voice was lovely and soft and well modulated. It was a joy to speak to him, even for only a couple of sentences.

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The photo with Taeyang shows the patches mirrored, so he’s the patches the right way round.

Notable fans were the early P1 arrivals who were so friendly to me and cute to boot, and then who later changed into wedding dresses for the concert. There were more of them, but only found this photo of 2 of them.

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Post concert depression , the letdown after so must fun and excitement, can be a real thing but it was so worth it. This was one of the best concerts I’ve attended. If you ever get the chance, go see Taeyang in concert you won’t be disappointed.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy my concert reviews for Seventeen,   JJCC,  G.Dragon,  MonstaX,  and Kard.

Photo credits to original owners. Photos 2 & 3 to Kpopme. Photos 4 thru 12 to my line and concert buddy, Alexis Remington. You can see more amazing photos from Alexis on her instagram www.instagram.com/sweetminki

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

 

Jolhon: A Korean Alternative to Divorce?

In Korea Jolhon is increasingly becoming an alternative to divorce for many long time married couples. Known as Sotzcon in Japan and first proposed in the 2004 book I Recommend Graduating From Marriage by Yumiko Sugiyama the idea has since spread to Korea, with its most notable proponent being Baek Il Seob from Grandpas Over Flowers. Although still legally married to his wife of 40 years, he has not seen his wife in well over a year. He famously said he had ‘graduated from marriage’ on a well known Korean variety show. In his case he said it was because they did not get along.

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Jolhon is the idea that each marriage partner can design a “secondary life after a long dutiful marriage” while they stay legally married to each other. They live as individuals not as a couple. As of yet there is no set definition of exactly what this means and some couples appear to still love each other and see each other occasionally, while some see it as a way to live apart without the social stigma of divorce.

The divorce rate in Korea is surprisingly quite high, with gray, or twilight divorces being a large contributor to that number. Even with the social stigma, that includes it reflecting badly on family members, and that it is frowned on by multiple religions many seniors feel the need to fulfil dreams that they put off while bringing up children, or to just live a ‘life for themselves’.

The trend seems likely to become more popular as more and more women don’t see much of a future within a marriage after the children have left home. With one of the longest life expectancies in the world many expect to live half their life after that point and wish for more than just staying to look after their husbands. They ‘want to live free with minimal marital obligations’. Jolhon allows them to do that.

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I first came across the idea in the recent Kdrama Man Who Sets The Table and on looking into it find it an interesting concept. Here in the US we have ‘being separated’ but that is often a stepping stone on the road to divorce. Jolhon seems to actually be an alternative that is working out for many couples in Korea and Japan.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Hanji: The Paper Of Korea,   Korea Without The Chili Pepper! and  Easy On The Eyes: Korean Models Turned Actors.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. Photos to original owners.

Should You Be Watching Kocowa?

      

Kocowa which stands for Korean Contents Wave is a relatively new streaming service from the ‘big 3’ Korean broadcast stations, MBC, KBS, and SBS. Seeing the global growth of such sites as Drama Fever, which had over 8 million monthly active viewers in the US in 2015,  it decided that it would be better to stream Korean content straight from the source rather than through 3rd party sites. As of this time Kocowa seems to be only available in North America, although they have stated it will be available in other markets in the future.

Being new there’s still some controversy and confusion as to how much it will impact other streaming sites such as Drama Fever and Viki. So far it looks like Drama Fever will lose some shows, while Viki has been able to add an option to watch Kocowa content through their service. Right now it may be personal choice and loyalty that keeps people viewing the sites they know and are familiar with. I’ve been a little disappointed with Drama Fever lately so I’ve enjoyed the advent of Kocowa. Yes I realize that this is a which came first, the chicken or the egg situation, but since things are what they are, I’ve added Kocowa to the sites I subscribe to for Korean content.

  

I’ve been watching some of the variety shows not available on DF or Viki and for ease of access and how quickly the latest episodes are translated Kocowa definitely gets a thumbs up. (Note: Netflix has surprisingly beefed up their selection of variety shows to include Chef And My Fridge and some episodes of Men On A Mission. Plus they are also showing some Korean dramas as Netflix Originals, such as the enjoyable Man To Man.)

   

Kocowa has the usual Kpop shows and are promising exclusive programming to include concert performances from big name artists. It also has JYP’s new show Party People which might be a fun watch depending on the guests chosen. I’m only one episode in so waiting until I’ve watched a few more episodes before deciding if it will go on my must watch roster of shows.

   

Kocowa has about 140 Kdramas listed right now, with a mix of ones currently on air as well as many classics. One thing to note is that some of the titles are slightly different from what the dramas are called on other sites so bear that is mind if you’re looking for something in particular.

It can be difficult to know which streaming sites to subscribe to as each has slightly different content and fee structure. If you can afford it is often better to subscribe to more than one, but that can quickly add up to a fair chunk of money. Some sites have free options but those usually require you to watch with ads. There are also options which others have recommended but I haven’t tried such as KissAsian and Crunchyroll.

So for now I subscribe to https://www.dramafever.com/   https://www.viki.com/  and  https://www.kocowa.com/ for Korean content, and  https://www.netflix.com/ and  https://www.hulu.com/  for general content with the bonus of an occasional decent Korean offering. How this will change a year from now I don’t know, but hopefully our access to Korean dramas, variety shows and other content only improves, and getting it cheaper would be nice too.

I’m interested in which streaming services you use? You can comment down below.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Korean Variety Show Games:Lose And Face The Punishment,   Korean Actors Who Were Athletes First,   and Six Degrees Of Yoo Jae Suk.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

Photo credits to original owners.

Seventeen Diamond Edge Concert In Dallas: Review.

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Dallas was once again fortunate to be chosen as a stop on a Kpop group’s American tour. Seventeen, a relatively young group, both in age and in years since debut, are extremely popular and have a large following in the US. Tickets sold fast and the ‘photo ops’ and ‘hi touches’ sold out even before the tickets went on sale to the general public.

Maybe because it was August in Texas, but the fans didn’t line up hours before the show as I’ve witnessed at past concerts, instead it was a little more normal with many fans arriving just an hour or so before the doors opened. I was lucky to be able to meet some friendly new faces at their first Kpop concert. It is always fun to see the excitement of first timers. (They weren’t new to Kpop, just to seeing it live.)

Once the doors opened the excitement began to build for everyone. The auditorium was bubbling with voices as fans found their seats and chatted with those around them. It took a while for everyone to get inside, with last minute entrants rushing down the aisles to find their places. The countdown had everyone screaming with anticipation and joy.

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Once again I must apologise for the quality of my photos, but this is how they came on stage, backlit from behind so all we could see was their silhouettes. It was almost long enough for me to begin to wonder if there was a mistake with the lighting, but apparently not. It was just to build the suspense and anticipation.

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When we did see them they were in different colored outfits so it was a little easier to tell them apart. One of the larger Kpop groups, Seventeen has 13 members, mostly Korean (one of whom grew up in the US) with a couple of Chinese members as well as as a Korean American. They are sometimes subdivided into 3 units, one specializing in Hip Hop, one Vocals, and one Performance unit, which allows them to highlight each member’s specific talents. However, when they perform all together it is hard to tell who’s in each subunit as they are all so talented.

Everyone was pleased to see Hoshi in the lineup as he had missed the Chicago concert due to illness, but he assured everyone that he was feeling ok. Hoshi was one of the standouts of the concert for his ebullient audience interactions and his lively stage presence. He also seemed to like taking his jacket half off. Known for choreographing many of the routines he was an extremely talented dancer.

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The stages, sets and backdrops were visually striking and along with the Pink Floyd style light show were quite impressive. Unfortunately at times they came very close to overpowering the people on stage. We came to see Seventeen and although a great concert experience can be enhanced by the stage effects they can also spoil one. Fortunately Seventeen, for the most part, managed to keep our attention focused on them.

While I tried to watch everyone, but sometimes that was obviously impossible so I let my eyes wander to whoever stood out. For me it was Woozi, a tiny 5’5″ bundle of charisma and energy, who stood out at first because of his size but who kept my attention because of his talent. Then there was Mingyu, the opposite at 6’1″ who caught my eye not only because of his size but because of his cute smile that never seemed to leave his face the entire concert. If he wasn’t singing he was smiling. (I’m also his fan since watching him on the Korean Variety show Law of the Jungle.) Jun was an unexpected tug in that even when he was dancing in the back line my eyes were drawn to him. At times he had a very laid back relaxed style and then wham he was executing every move and step in an intense crisp style. Of course S.Coups voice caught my attention and in all honesty there were times I focused on each of them as they all had their shining moments.

(Wow, brief pause as I had to go look out the window. I’m writing this as Hurricane Harvey is smashing into South Texas. A category 4 storm on landfall he has just been downgraded to a cat 1, but the winds here are intense with trees bending sideways, plus we’re expected to get about 6 inches of rain and that’s with us being right at the outer edge. The damage to south Texas will be devastating before this is over.)

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The boys made sure that they covered the whole stage, although being such a large group it was obviously safer if they performed their most active routines closer to the center of the stage. Seventeen is known for their own style of choreography which uses more synchronised leg movements than many other groups, they also focus somewhat on hip movements too, to the delight of many of their fans. Considering the size of the group the way they manage to stay in sync shows how much they practice together.

They performed all of their most well known songs and the audience was very vocal when a particular favorite  began. You can see many of the fancams from the Dallas show on Youtube and the Dallas show was being professionally filmed, but I don’t know when or where that will be shown. I particularly enjoyed Boom Boom, Mansae, and Nice, but all the performances were enjoyable and entertaining. The dance number by Jun and The8 using the ribbon was both unusual for Kpop and excellent, if somewhat marred by the poor lighting. (A better look at the dance can be found from a fancam from the Hong Kong performance.)

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Along with the performances we were also treated to a few breaks where the members interacted with the audience, notably when they introduced themselves at the beginning and when they thanked us at the end. Videos were also shown during outfit changes and as lead ups to certain songs.

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It was nice to see each of the 3 subunits get a chance to shine, and each segment nicely showcased their talents. The hip hop unit were quite fierce at times with some powerful raps, while the vocal unit was melodious and somewhat soulful. Once again though I was drawn to the dancers, their performances of OMG and in particular Hightlight were a joy to watch.

As the evening wound to a close there were conflicting emotions. Everyone wanted the night to go on forever, but no matter how happy the young men of Seventeen looked, they were obviously tired. They came out for one last encore wearing comfortable clothes with cameras in hand, they took photos of the audience and waved and made eye contact with as many fans as possible before posing for the obligatory photo of them with the audience in the background, before finally heading off stage.

The evening was over for me and most of the rest of the fans, but some fans were happily waiting for their ‘photo op’ or ‘hi touch’ with the group. Seventeen gave a great performance and I’m glad I got to go, and to get back home before the threat of Hurricane Harvey.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Monsta X in Chicago,  G.Dragon World Tour in Houston,  JJCC in Houston, and Wild Kard in Houston.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photo credits to original owners.

Just fyi photo of Hurricane Harvey from space.

Korea And The Silk Road.

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When I was growing up I learned about the Silk Road in a very simplified way, as it being one special route that brought silk and other goods from China to the West, and Western goods to China. Since then however, historians have come to realize that there were multiple trade routes, and that some are far older than they originally thought and traveled much further than they had previously known.

Historians can map trade routes in Baltic Amber from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean dating back thousands of years. And the trade in tin from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean, and from China to the Middle East are almost as old. But these trade routes weren’t followed by a single trader, but rather each trader would travel a certain distance and pass the goods to the next trader at markets and in towns along the routes. This led not only to the passing on of tradable objects, but also information, knowledge and religion were passed from person to person along the trade route. Trading towns and cities grew up along the routes and trade grew. Unfortunately these routes also sometimes became the routes invading armies followed, and diseases could also spread from person to person along the different routes.

Rome traded with other empires across the known world in places such as China, India, and Africa. They traded valuable materials with each other such as grain, fabrics, metals, and pottery.

By the first century CE you can see from this simplified map that quite a few trade routes existed and that by passing goods along the routes, both land and sea, that trade between the Roman Empire and Han Empire was possible. The Romans and Chinese even wrote about it at the time and due to archeological evidence we know that Chinese silk was the favorite cloth of rich Romans. Where this map falls short is that it doesn’t show the trading routes that go east from China to the Three Kingdoms of Korea, (57 BCE -668 CE) Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla, and then onto Japan. (Northern Korea does make it onto this map, but is labeled as a part of the Han Empire, when in fact that area was Goguryeo, a Korean kingdom,)

Stem cup, Late Roman, fifth century. Glass. Excavated from the north mound of Hwangnam Daechong Tomb. Lent by Gyeongju National Museum, Korea. (National Museum of Korea)

(Note, in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul there’s a whole section of objects found at archaeological sites in Korea that came from distant places along the silk routes to include this example of Roman glass excavated from a Silla tomb.)

China and Korea have had a long and intertwined history and trade routes between the two date back a very long time. In fact much of what we know about early Korea comes from Ancient Chinese texts. Among the many things they wrote they said that the people of Silla liked ‘glass beads and gold’. Much of the Three Kingdoms time period saw a flowering of art and knowledge and many people from Silla were known to have resided in China to learn, trade, and work. Many goods, artworks, and knowledge passed both ways between the two countries. Silla was said to have enjoyed ‘a golden age’.

But the Three Kingdoms may not of just received trade goods from Chinese traders, they may also have been traveling some ways along the routes themselves, to perhaps obtain better deals and more diverse items. About half way along one of the more popular silk routes in Samarkand a Sogdian wall painting dating to 655 CE seems to show two men from the Goguryeo Kingdom in Korea, based on their clothes and weapons. The men in question are the two on the right and if they really are from Goguryeo this is amazing as they would be thousands of miles from home.

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The above photo is of 8th century Sogdian Silk. The Sogdians were famed traders along the central parts of the overland silk routes and had many connections both east and west. If Koreans from any of the Three Kingdoms did indeed visit Samarkand it shows their understanding of the politics of the Silk Roads, and they were directly dealing with one of its most important players.

There is a Chinese painting from around the same time period (7th cent. CE ) showing envoys from the Three Kingdoms at the Chinese Emperor’s Court so Koreans were very definitely traveling outside of the Korean Peninsula.

The Three Kingdoms were also a through point, both by land and by sea, to Japan and were instrumental is passing along things such as Buddhism, the game of Weiqi, (called Baduk in Korea and Go in Japan) as well as Bonsai, (called Penzai in China and Bunjae in Korea) to Japan. In the Asuka period ( 538-710 CE ) the Japanese city of Nara could perhaps be considered the last stop eastwards on the Silk Roads. The Shoso-in Repository holds many Silk Roads artifacts from many far away countries.

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Merchants and traders weren’t the only ones to use the Silk Roads. Monks, Buddhist ones in particular, traveled far and wide, both to learn and to teach. Buddhist monk Hyech’o  (approx 704-787 CE) from Silla followed in the footsteps of earlier monks and traveled to India and surrounding lands. He traveled by both land and sea and spent over 5 years doing so. He visited as far west as ‘the Arab lands’ and thankfully for us wrote a diary of his journey. In it he notes information on all sorts of different things he saw during his travels. Travel changes people and when they write about their travels those writings can influence other people too, leading to cultural exchanges of ideas as well as goods. Hyech’o was not the only Korean monk to travel long distances, although he was one of the more famous ones.

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Many Korean monks and nuns traveled to Japan and help spread Buddhisms and later Confucianism among both the elite and working classes. They brought with them no only religious ideas but, along with merchants and refugees, they also spread the knowledge of silk making, as well as iron working techniques and the idea of surnames. Many other items both of Chinese and Korean origin were exported to Japan such as the oven, bronze bells, gold and silver jewelry as well as stoneware and household items.

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By the 11th century, you can see from the map just how far the trade routes had spread, although I think many would have been in existence long before this time, just perhaps unknown to us. Trade along the Silk Roads had periods of boom and bust, at some points in history trade almost ceased, while at other times it was booming. The fall of the Tang dynasty in China disrupted trade, while perhaps surprisingly the Mongol invasions and conquests revived it.

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Long known in the west as ‘The Hermit Kingdom’ Korea was for centuries anything but locked away from the outside world. Once a far looking place that was eager to trade with the outside world, using the Silk Roads to gain products, religions, and ideas, Korea inexorably turned in on itself in the 17th -20th centuries. Now, however, Korea is once more spreading its products and ideas onto the world stage. No longer known as the Silk Road international trade and travel to many of parts of the world are once again a part of Korean Life, and those long ago ancestors are probably smiling.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Korea’s Greatest Hero,    Juryeonggu: A 14 sided Dice From The Golden Age Of Silla, and  Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

All photo credits to original owners.

JJCC The 1st Appearance In America: Review Of The Houston Show.

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It is hard to talk about the Kpop group JJCC without mentioning Jackie Chan of martial art’s fame. Mr Chan being a huge fan of Kpop decided a few years ago to form his own Kpop group. I have often wondered if this was his best decision, but it was definitely a legitimate way to show his love of the genre. However, after attending the Houston leg of their concert on Tuesday I do have to thank him for creating JJCC. I had a blast. Among so many good points it was perhaps the intimacy of the venue and the groups natural and relaxed interactions with the audience that made it so enjoyable.

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The small crowd began lining up a few hours before the show and slowly gathered on the front porch of the venue.  Having braved the morning thunderstorms that made travel difficult and had led the nearby bayou to overflowing its banks and flooding streets in the area, they were happy to find the venue had a dry and a sheltered area to wait. Fitzgerald’s, an old style music venue, has been around since since the 1970’s and has seen many genres of music played there over the years. I wonder what it thought of Kpop? Fans chatted and got to know each other. Although most were local, a few had driven from San Antonio and Dallas to show their support.

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VVIP’s were let in first and got to look around the place a little, take some general photos, and pick up merchandize. Then they were allowed into the performance space and get their places up front near the stage. It didn’t take long for everyone to file in as it was a disappointingly small crowd. (I understand that money has been tight for Kpop fans in Texas lately, especially with both GD and MonsterX having had recent performances, but I feel the US production companies need to do a better job of promoting their artists.)

 

 

The small crowd however ended up being a blessing for those of us who were there. I received more fan service than I’ve ever received before. I was so close to the stage that is was actually hard to take photos as they were so close the camera angle had to be intense to get their whole bodies in frame. So close in fact that at one point Simba hugged me from the stage. Yep, not a hi five or fist bump, but actual arm around my shoulders proper squeeze type hug.

 

 

It also made taking a photo of all five of them together a little problematic. But there’s no way I’m complaining. Being that close was wonderful, but even if you were a little ways away from the stage they did everything to engage the audience.

 

 

Eddy and Simba had nice interactions with some ladies on the balcony and made sure they felt included. They also made sure that they didn’t forget those fans at both ends of the stage.

 

 

The evening was a mix of songs, games, and audience interactions. During the question time they seriously read all of them before choosing which ones to answer. And the most important question of the night for many in the crowd, ‘would you date a foreign girl?’ was answered with a ‘yes’.

 

 

They played charades with members of the audience participating, as well as the balloon pop game. The group members were very relaxed and interacted with their fans in a natural way, calming the nervousness some of the fans may have felt.

 

 

The 5 members present, Eddy, Simba, Yul, Zica, and San Cheong, sang and danced their hearts out, but I must admit my favorite times of the night involved just being there. It was like just hanging out at a party. Everyone was happy and enjoying themselves, the music was good, the ‘views’ were nice, and there was no one pushing and shoving to get closer to the stage. Good times.

 

 

After the last song of the evening someone started shouting ‘encore’ in a loud voice and music started playing. Simba was there with us on the floor, dancing with different members of the audience. Yep including me, and I got another hug. I couldn’t see all the members at all times, kinda focusing on Simba for a while there, but they did a great job interacting with the crowd while saying goodbye.

 

 

But it wasn’t quite goodbye. After a wait for them to rest a little VVIPs lined up for their group photos, which weren’t rushed, unbelievable I know. And then after that the fans who had paid extra to get polaroid photos with their favorite members lined up. I couldn’t choose so got photos with everyone.

 

 

Although there was a little confusion as we all got in lines once everyone sorted themselves out we all got to chat for a moment or so before posing and again it was nice and relaxed. Eddy was having a blast talking to everyone, and the others seemed like they were enjoying themselves. Only San Cheong looked a little out of place as he didn’t seem to have as many fans in his line. But when he did smile he was very cute.

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As you can probably guess Simba has ended up being my bias because of his impressive kindness towards me. Lots of pretty girls to hug, but he still hugged me.

 

 

Also after the show the guys were kind enough to give an impromptu interview to Youtuber Sammy from Sammysofiesteffy.

JJCC which was formed back in 2014 have had some ups and downs, with some members leaving, new members joining, and one currently doing his mandatory military service. I also wonder how the drive and expertise of their management company has impacted their chances of success. They are talented, cute, and have a couple of English speakers, but somehow they just haven’t caught on in either Korea or abroad. I saw them on MCountdown back in 2015 and thought they would do better than they have. Kpop is a hard industry to succeed in and the competition is fierce. I hope they have made some new fans here in the States and find a way to reach more fans all over the world. They provided a great experience as well as a top notch performance, especially considering the venue. Their show may not have been one of the best I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely one of the most enjoyable.

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Go watch their MV’s on youtube or catch them on the rest of their tour because these young men could use a little extra support. And JJCC if you come back to the USA and come to San Antonio, or even, Austin  contact me and I will help get you a bigger crowd and more fans.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy G.Dragon World Tour in Houston,  MonstaX Beautiful in Chicago,  and Wild Kard 2017: The 1st Tour in America.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photo credits to me.

Looking For Cactus And Succulents In South Korea.

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Looking online at sites such as Pinterest, and those catering to the latest in garden fashion both inside and outside the home, one can see the rising popularity of growing succulents. Brides now use them in bouquets, businesses have them as the plant of choice, and teachers are receiving them as end of year thank you gifts. Floral shops now make succulent arrangements for almost every occasion. Korea has been quietly growing cactus and succulents for many years now and are on the cutting edge of growing the most fantastic hybrids and clones, particularly of Echeverias and Haworthias.

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Basically all cactus are succulents (means a plant with fleshy leaves that stores water,) but not all succulents are cactus. (Cactus have spines.)

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Korea has a limited number of succulents native to the region; Orostchys Malacophylla, Orostchys Japonica, Sedum Aizoon, Sedum Sarmentosum, and Hylotelephium Erythrostictum, but that hasn’t stopped them from growing a vast number of non native varieties for home use and for export. Korea has become famous for its succulents and you can even buy them online here in the US. The Prickly Pear cactus which is native to the Americas is grown on Jeju Island and they even make a chocolate from it.

 

If you’re visiting Seoul one of the best places to see a nice variety for sale is at the Jogno Flower Market Alley. A little over 100 meters in length it is chock full of stalls selling all sorts of plants, however, the main focus is succulents. Succulents make perfect houseplants for busy city people and are a favorite of many urban dwellers around the world. Relatively easy to take care of, if you follow the instructions and provide the correct amount of water and light etc, they provide both sculptural interest and colorful beauty to one’s home.

You can also see some really nice collections at some of Korea’s numerous Botanic Gardens. Korea has fifty four Botanic Gardens to be precise, although not all have all varieties of plants on display. Of the half dozen or so Botanic Gardens we’ve visited most had some succulents on view. The Greenhouse at the Seoul Grand Park had one room devoted to them, as well as an incredible Orchid room. (Since many orchids have fleshy parts that store water they are considered to be succulents although many people do not group them as such.)

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Another place in Seoul was one of the greenhouses set up at the old wastewater plant in Seoul Forest.

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Outside of Seoul the Yeomiji Botanic Gardens on Jeju Island have perhaps the nicest collection of cactus and succulents that we’ve seen so far in Korea. Their greenhouse is massive and is divided into specialized areas, all of which were quite impressive.

We also found another smaller garden while on Jeju Island that had a lovely display in their greenhouse, unfortunately I can’t remember it’s name at the moment.

If you’re interested in growing succulents, particularly some of the fabulous Korean hybrids and/or clones I suggest you find a local nursery who can help you out. If that is not an available option I know they sell a lot online, but please use caution and common sense when buying from online sources. There is a good article here which may be worth reading before you buy online.

Next time we visit Korea we plan to find some time to visit another Botanic Garden, or two. Maybe you can add one to your list too.

Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Yeomiji Botanic Gardens,  Halle Arboretum,   Spirit Garden, and   Seoul Forest Park in Photos.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photos belong to original owners, Debora & Elizabeth Marzec.

G.Dragon World Tour In Houston 2017.

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The fact that world class star G. Dragon chose Houston as one of the stops for his American Tour both surprised me, and made me incredibly happy. I have seen GD perform once live at a KCon in LA, and then I saw Big Bang at their MADE Newark show, but I really expected to have to travel much further to see him for this tour. Houston is only a 3 1/2 hour drive, but I was lucky that some friends let me tag along with them so the time flew by.

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We arrived in Houston around lunch time and while they headed out to a Baseball Game I went to check out the line. The Gold and Silver VIPs had begun lining up early that morning and a couple had even camped out in their car in order to be at the front of the line. Bronze VIPs had seats assigned so the pressure to line up early wasn’t so intense. Fans withstood the incredibly high humidity and passing rain showers in a cheerful mood as they looked forward to the evening’s performance.

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Fan project organizers roamed the line passing out red bags for the ‘red ocean’ project, while another group collected cans and money for the Houston Food Bank in GD’s name. I believe they raised well over $600 in cash and over a hundred pounds of food. Well done to those who donated and to those who organized the food drive.

Gold ticket holders were allowed in earliest, then Silver and then us Bronze, for the special treat of being able to watch the soundcheck. We were kept in separate lines and waited for quite a while, however since we were inside the air conditioned building and had access to restrooms and could buy things it wasn’t too bad. Everyone else had to wait outside in the oppressive afternoon heat. The waiting did begin to get to us though as we could hear music and noises from inside the auditorium and worried that the soundcheck was starting without us. The staff, on the whole, were very patient and pleasant to us and tried to answer all our questions, unfortunately it seemed that not everyone was on the same page at times and there was some confusion from time to time.

Gold VIPs got to have their group photos taken on the empty stage. Then a few minutes later the actual soundcheck began with the band playing a couple of songs and then a very relaxed GD came on stage and gifted us with three songs, and a few bows and waves. We couldn’t see his face as he kept his face mask on the whole time, but we could see him, and hear him, and bask in his presence. He definitely has charisma even with his face covered, and his voice carried beautifully through the mostly empty arena.

After the soundcheck we all relaxed a little and I headed to the bar to have a drink and eat something before they let everyone else in. I met a really nice couple from Dallas, and chatted with some Kpopjacket fans who stopped by to say hi.

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The soundcheck began, and ended late, meaning that the actual concert also started late. There was a feeling of pent up excitement that rippled through the waiting crowd that eventually gave way to an enormous cheer as GD finally appeared on stage. The stage moved around and he was lifted up into view. He started out strong with the ever popular Heartbreaker, and he wound the crowd up with a powerful rendition of the song. He smoothly changed things up by then performing A Boy and Breathe. Quite a few of the evening’s songs were new arrangements, which on the whole worked well, but as a traditionalist sometimes I just want to hear the original version.

Once again my phone wasn’t up to the challenge of capturing decent photos against the intense lighting and backdrops. The stage and arena were almost always full of movement, lights, shadows, fire, smoke, confetti,  or streamers. The dancers were fantastic and complimented GD without overpowering him by their sheer numbers on stage. There were 6 guy dancers and 4 women who were all excellent in their own right. Just as the band was also loud, wonderful and talented.

There was a lot of symbolism displayed on the backdrops and videos shown throughout the evening, as well as heavy usage of the color red. There was also  a lot of blood, and medical equipment. I found it difficult to tell if this was all about birth and rebirth, duality of nature, or even something to do with plastic surgery as a symbol for changing one’s persona to fit what others have come to expect from him. Definitely intense imagery.

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The songs continued apace, with older hits such as MichiGo. One of a Kind, Who You, and Crayon, as well as more recent ones such as Middle Fingers Up, Bullshit, and Untitled. Between all the songs were quieter times when videos were shown, or when he chatted with the audience and told us how he sometimes felt lonely, but that appearing before a live audience made him feel alive. He also spoke about the duality of being both GD and Kwon Ji Yong. He was cute, sincere, and totally adorable while speaking in his softly accented voice. He looked so much younger than his age and I think we all just wanted to hug him and tell him how great he is and that everything would be ok.

A short recorded interview piece asked his family, friends, and co-workers just what they thought of GD and who was he to them. It then went on to ask the same questions about Kwon Ji Yong. Not surprisingly many of the answers were different. He himself also spoke about this potential inner conflict between his two personas and how at times this proved difficult for him. He seemed somewhat insecure and it was very touching seeing him open up about his inner feelings. During the recording he also seemed to say that he was, and was wanting to continue to appear before us as Ji Yong. One comment stuck with me, ‘someone loves me.’ I so hope this means that he truly has a someone, and that whoever it is can help him feel loved. Genius and love often find it hard to co-exist.

The show wound to a close with an amazingly heartfelt and powerful rendition of Crooked, and then a few moments later we realized he had moved down off the stage to a path next to the audience. He sang Untitled as he slowly worked his way along in front of the Gold VIP section. He’s so small most of us lost him from time to time but we could hear the screams and see the crowd ebb and flow thereby following his route, until finally he came out about 15 to 20 feet in front of me. I could only see his face, but it was cool to be so close.IMG_0799

One surprising omission is that he didn’t perform Coup d’Etat, otherwise I felt he did enough songs from his career as a soloist to please everyone. Of course everyone has their favorites. Unfortunately the venue was not full, whether this was because the Texas Kpop audience was split by having 2 Kpop concerts in the same state on the same night, Monsta X was in Dallas, or whether it was just that the Toyota Center was too big a venue I don’t know. Venue size and location can have a big impact on whether a venue can sell out. Also we’ve been very fortunate to have had so many concerts come to Texas this year, but that also means that many people have already spent their discretionary budget. Texas is huge 6 1/2 times the size of Korea, so going to a concert often means paying for a lot more than just the tickets.IMG_0743

Overall it was a wonderful experience, filled with shared excitement, heightened emotions and an incredible performance by Kwon Ji Yong. If you ever get the chance it is well worth the cost to go see him live.

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Thank you to everyone who drove me, or took time to chat with me, it is a lot more fun at concerts when you can hang out with friends, old and new. Have a great day everyone.

You may also enjoy Monsta X Beautiful In The USA: Chicago,    Wild Kard 2017: The 1st Tour in America, and Party Baby! BAP  2017 World Tour In Dallas.

Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.

Photo credits to original owners.

Monsta X Beautiful In The USA: Chicago.

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As some of you know I live in Texas and mostly go to the ‘local’ shows, if you can call a 5 1/2 hour drive local! But this time I had to travel further to see Monsta X, due to having already bought my ticket for the GDragon concert that was for the same day. (Note to the Korean entertainment companies, I know Kpop is becoming more popular in the US, but scheduling 2 Kpop concerts for the same date in the same State is not smart. Splitting the potential audience means less revenue for you and smaller crowds for your artists.)  I decided on the Chicago stop to see Monsta X so I could be among the first to see them perform in the US.

 

 

My daughter came with me so we had a 3 day mini vacation in Chicago before the day of the concert. We did and saw so many cool things, and ate lots of great food. Kpop concerts are a great excuse to see more places and see different parts of the US and world.

 

 

 

(Side note. We’ve stayed in hostels on 3 continents and the Chicago Parthenon Hostel was one of the worst we’ve ever stayed at, so I can’t recommend it, even though it had decent reviews online.)

 

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After 3 sunny days in Chicago the weather turned dark and stormy on the day of the concert. Flash flood warnings were issued and there were major traffic and airport delays. Fans were encouraged to stay safe and to keep dry. By the time we arrived at our hotel, the Crowne Plaza across the street from the venue, there were about 16 people in line. (I can heartily recommend the Crowne Plaza for anyone attending a concert at the Rosemont Theatre. The manager was wonderful, letting us into our room early and making sure we could overlook the venue, even though he was super busy with a large Godzilla convention that was taking place the next day meaning fans for that were also filling the hotel.)

 

 

After a quick trip to the nearby outlet mall, where we apparently missed a couple of the Monsta X boys by minutes, I headed to the venue to check out some of the fan events and projects. Even with the inclement weather spirits were high and projects were in full swing. Multiple fan projects were ongoing and everyone was super excited to be there. By the time the doors opened the line to get in circled the building. The Rosemont Theatre seats 4,400 so that was a long line. Having lost my place in line some kind local fans let me in back in line. Thank you.

 

 

As per most Kpop concerts everyone was happy and excited to be there and some fans had made postcards and pictures to share with other fans. Others were selling the fanart they had made, while yet others were carrying their merchandize and homemade signs and fanart. Many made new friends and told stories about previous concerts and shared their love for the young men who make up Monsta X.

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There was much sadness that member Hyungwon was not able to be at the concert, but everyone was more concerned about him getting healthy than him not being there. The other members, Shownu, Jooheon, Wonho, Kihyun, Minhyuk, and IM were all the favorites of someone in the crowd , and many fans were heard to say it was just too hard to choose one bias when they were all so amazing.

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Once the door opened, yes only one, the staff directed us through multiple ticket and bag check stations getting people in fairly quickly. We had to wait inside until finally they opened the auditorium doors and everyone excitedly found their seats. I was quite near the front, but far over to one side. Unfortunately my phone had a severe meltdown and I got no usable photos, however thanks to a kind couple I met before the show one of whom, Anthony White has given me permission to share some of his photos.

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The concert was amazing, the guys started out strong and never let up the entire show. They put their all into every dance move and every note they sang. The audience screamed and sang along and Monsta X fed off that high octane energy and gave one of the best concerts I’ve been too. The sets and backdrop were fairly minimal, with occasional smoke, streamers, and confetti, but the boys didn’t need any of that as they commanded the stage with their talent, power and raw energy.

 

 

Not only did they wow everyone with their performances they also engaged the crowd in a relaxed and confident manner, belying them being only a couple of years from their debut, and Chicago being their first tour stop in the USA. Wonho, being the flirt that he is, managed to excite the crowd numerous times. When he took his jacket off Jooheon hearing increasing noise from the audience  suggested we all cheer for Wonho’s muscles, which we of course all did. Kihyun just about died laughing.

 

 

Later Wonho also pleased the crowd by forgetting his shirt somewhere. Wonho, not a particular bias of mine walking in because I thought he’s kinda cocky, ended up quickly redeeming himself in my eyes. Yes, he’s a flirt, but he is a great one. When he looked into my eyes even my old heart beat faster. He prowled the stage at times deliberately focusing on individual members of the audience giving each just enough of a look to let them know he really was looking just at them.  He was funny when he was speaking, and the crowd was too loud he used the music director closed fist to ask us to quiet down a bit, but he worried us too as he slipped and fell at one point. Wonho threw me candy, and during the hi touch actually held my hand and squeezed it while again making direct eye contact. He had incredibly soft hands too.

 

 

Kihyun also had his flirty moments, although he also showed deep passion and emotion during multiple parts of the performance. It was amazing to watch his serious face change into an incredibly wrinkly one as his eye smiles almost connected to his cheesy grin. He also acted the mom from time to time, trying to make sure everything ran smoothly during the parts where they spoke to the audience. He also threw me candy and made eye contact and held my hand during the hi touch.

 

 

Shownu was swagger personified as he patrolled the stage, teasing some audience members as he got close to them. He too was on point for the whole concert and you could see the sweat dripping off all of them throughout the show from the effort they were pouring into their performances.

 

 

Minhyuk was smiley and cheerful and really seemed to glow with happiness at times. The Chicago crowd has to be complimented for really pumping up the atmosphere. The excitement was palpable.

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I.M spoke to us in English in his beautifully accented voice, occasionally also translating for the others. There was an official translator, but he didn’t seem to be able to keep up when the boys were joking around. All the members at some point or other tried their hand at speaking English and they were adorable.

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And one really can’t overlook Jooheon even though at times I got the feeling he’s kinda shy. He definitely wasn’t so during the concert, as during some of the songs he really looked fierce and tough. The concentration was evident on all their faces as they made every effort to showcase their abilities. Every move was crisp and sharp, every step in time with the beat and synchronized with the others. They showed multiple facets of their repertoire going from slow to fast tempo songs with ease.

 

 

They sang about 23 of most of their more popular songs including Beautiful, Shine Forever, Trespass, Rush, and my favorite Hero, but I was so caught up in the concert I can’t give you an accurate set list. Fortunately there are so many fansites and Youtube videos of the concert that I’m sure you can find more about the concert if you want.

 

 

I just tried to give you an idea of how fantastic the whole Monsta X concert experience was for me. I’ll definitely head back to Chicago to experience that feeling again.

After all the excitement it was hard to actually take in that it was over. We all wanted more. But the lights came on and the announcements for all those without hi touch or photo op to leave the auditorium began to echo over the theatre. Photo op people were then herded to one area, and hi touch to another. We had a bit of a wait for the boys to have a brief respite after their exertions on stage, and many chatted about the concert and which bits were the absolute best, others sat quietly reliving the highlights over and over in their minds.

We were, as usual, rushed through the hi touch. However, when possible members tried to hold hands and give them a little squeeze, rather than just the quick hi touch that often happens. I applaud them for that and also for looking at fans during the hi touch as well as showing interest and reactions to fans.

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The two pieces of candy that were thrown to me, one from Wonho and one from Kihyun, have become a quandary, to eat or not to eat?

Thank you Monsta X for an excellent performance, and thank you to the Chicago fans who made me feel welcome.

Have a great day everyone.

You might also like Wild Kard 2017: The 1st Tour in America,    Party Baby! 2017 BAP World Tour In Dallas,    and  SHINee V World Tour In Dallas 2017.

Photo credits to original owners. Pre concert photos to Elizabeth & Debora Marzec. (Exception Hyungwon) All concert photos, with thanks, to Anthony White.

Please do not copy, or use, without permission and accreditation.