Saturday, September 29, 2012

Enjoy Family Outings with Traditional Flavor Over Chuseok

Chuseok or Korea's Thanksgiving, is a festive season when families reunite. Instead of getting bored in front of television after catching up on the latest gossip among relatives, family outings can provide more entertainment, and a variety of programs are available at amusement parks, palaces and museums.

◆ Amusement Parks

Seoul's Lotte World stages performances of a traditional circle dance at 8 p.m. from Friday to Oct. 3. Inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, Ganggangsullae is a seasonal harvest and fertility ritual popular in the southwestern region. Visitors can also enjoy other traditional performances such as samulnori (quartet percussion), fan dances and folk songs.

Seoul Land in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, is also preparing traditional performances and games including tightrope walking and parades of character dolls. From Monday through Wednesday, Taekwondo-themed performances will be staged at 3 p.m. blending the martial art with dancing routines, while martial artists will also demonstrate breaking wooden boards and give short scripted performances.

Visitors can also participate in board games played by tossing four sticks (yut-nori), or striking rice cakes with a mallet (ddeokme-chigi).
◆ Aquarium and Folk Village

The COEX Aquarium in Seoul offers visitors the chance to enjoy unique performances staged in water. Divers wearing hanbok, or Korean traditional dress, will jump on seesaws (neol-ttwigi), throw arrows into a narrow barrel (tuho), and walk on tightropes. A huge school of "dancing" sardines will also delight onlookers.

Meanwhile, the Korean Folk Village in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province will offer a slew of activities. Traditional rites will be demonstrated and visitors can tuck in to some ritual food offered at ancestral ceremonies. Agricultural equipment that was used to harvest grain and crops will also be displayed so visitors can get some hands-on experience of operating them.
◆ Palaces

Jongmyo, a Confucian shrine, several palaces and numerous Chosun-era royal tombs will also be open to the public free of charge on Sunday. Those who turn up wearing hanbok will also be able to enter without paying from Saturday to Monday.

A variety of programs will be offered at popular sites like Changgyeong Palace, where visitors can take photos with a performer dressed as a Chosun-era queen between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call the Cultural Heritage Administration at 1600-0064.

The National Museum of Korea will stage traditional music performances from 3 p.m. on Sunday accompanied by explanations by Hwang Byung-ki, a virtuoso player of the gayageum, or 12-stringed zither. For free tickets, online reservations can be made at

The Meaning of Chuseok

Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving celebrates nature's bounty. At a time of the year when rice paddies and other plots of farmland are filled with bumper crops, even the poorest farmers make rice wine and pick the ripest fruit and present them on altars for ancestral rites.

Koreans in the past chose the best times of the year for holidays and prepared sumptuous tables to honor their ancestors and share the food with their family and friends.
Foreign women married to Koreans pose with songpyeon or crescent-shaped rice cakes they made in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Sept. 6, 2011. /Newsis Foreign women married to Koreans pose with songpyeon or crescent-shaped rice cakes they made in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Sept. 6, 2011. /Newsis
There is a Korean saying that goes, "Not more, not less. Just be like Hangawi (another name for Chuseok)." The saying refers to the fact that the Chuseok holiday falls on the best time of the year with moderately cool weather and warm sun and, more importantly, abundant food from the fresh harvest.

It was common to prepare a lavish meal and enjoy it with the entire family and friends who had toiled hard in the field from spring until fall after performing ancestral rites.

These days, Chuseok has lost a lot of its true meaning, with fewer and fewer people holding ancestral rites, and preparing smaller amounts of food to put on ritual tables and to share. But one thing remains the same about Chuseok: it is till a time of the year when family and relatives travel long distances to get together and pay their respects to their ancestors.

The Right Makeup for Your Chuseok Hanbok

When you wear hanbok, you need to make sure that your makeup matches the traditional Korean costume. What is important is to emphasize a clear complexion and use the right blusher. To moisten your skin properly, take preparatory skincare steps before applying makeup base and foundation, and be careful not to put them on too thick. If you have dark circles under the eyes or spots around your chin, you can use highlighter to lighten the skin tone.
When applying blusher, make sure you do it in a U shape around the area that protrudes when you smile. Repeat this lightly several times to create a natural and slightly flushed skintone. If you have dry skin, apply a small amount of powder with a brush on your brow and nose. If you have oily skin, apply powder all over your face lightly by using a puff. As for eye makeup, avoid dark colors. Use pearly pastel colors and apply them lightly. Water-proof mascara is good for the Chuseok holidays, when women often have to work so hard they can hardly find time to adjust their makeup.
If you want a natural makeup and look as young as possible, don't wear lipstick too thick. Moisten your lips with lip balm before putting the lipstick on. Use a lip liner in colors matching your hanbok and apply lipstick with a brush. Finish it with a lip gloss that also matches the color of your hanbok.
So a very Happy Chuseok/Hangawi/Korean Thanks giving festival to all the viewers.

Friday, September 28, 2012

K-Pop Festival in Incheon Promotes 2014 Asian Games

The nation's largest K-pop festival took place at Munhak World Cup Stadium in Incheon on Sept. 9. Organized by the Incheon city government, the concert was held to promote the host city of the 2014 Asian Games and boost its tourism industry and the regional economy. Admission tickets to the annual concert were provided free of charge.
The Munhak World Cup Stadium in Incheon is packed with fans for the nations biggest K-pop festival on Sept. 9. The Munhak World Cup Stadium in Incheon is packed with fans for the nation's biggest K-pop festival on Sept. 9.
The venue of Incheon K-Pop Concert 2012 was packed with K-pop fans from home and abroad. Information booths and dedicated entrances were set up to help spectators from foreign countries, including Asia, France, Spain and the U.K., and foreign guides were on hand to make sure things went smoothly.
IU sings at the concert on Sept. 9. 
IU sings at the concert on Sept. 9.
The concert began shortly after welcoming remarks by the city mayor at 7 p.m. With Onew and Key of boy band SHINee serving as hosts along with actress Min Hyo-rin, the three-hour show proved a smash hit and featured top stars such as Kim Tae-woo, BoA, IU and Kara. The 40,000-strong audience roared at the appearance of each performer and bore placards emblazoned with the names of their favorite singers.

Foreign fans queue for the concert. 
Foreign fans queue for the concert.

The weather turned chilly as the night progressed but the crowd’s level of enthusiasm remained undiminished until the show wrapped up at around 10 p.m. Capping the night, fireworks painted the sky a rainbow of colors and spectators filed out of the venue still humming K-pop tunes.

Starting new reading culture inside taxis

Taxi drivers of Samkwang Transport pose for a picture at the company’s office on Sept. 20 in Songpa, southern Seoul, to celebrate the start of a book reading service through the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) radio channel. The service, jointly organized by EBS, Soongsil University and the Songpa District Office aims to promote reading. / Yonhap

Think about how you usually spend your time in a moving vehicle, taking you from one place to another.

The most common sight on public forms of transportation these days is people staring into their smart phones, whether they are checking Facebook, playing games or texting.

This fall, a handful of taxis in Seoul are offering a more productive experience for passengers.

In a joint project with the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), Soongsil University and the Songpa district office, taxis of Samkwang Transport will provide an experience similar to listening to an audio book during rides, to provide citizens the opportunity to move a step closer to books and encourage reading,

In these taxis, passengers will be able to hear various works of literature and bestselling books being read to them on the EBS radio channel (FM 104.5).

The channel has programs reading different genres all day, so regardless of the time of day, passengers will be able to enjoy book readings. QR code stickers ensure that they can continue to listen to the program after they get off.

Kim June-bum, head of radio programming at EBS, said in a press conference held Aug. 20 at the Seoul Finance Center that the project aims to have taxi drivers and passengers listen to book readings on the radio and converse about the book.

Kim cited examples of other countries where various movements were initiated to encourage reading and have it become part of people’s daily lives.

“In the U.K., there is Bookstart, a 20-year-old reading program that gives free books to babies and toddlers. The One City One Book is a movement in cities across the U.S. which attempts to have communities read and discuss the same book. Japan has a program that encourages people to start their days with 15 minutes of reading,” said Kim.

“We don’t want this project to end as a short-term campaign; we’re hoping to start a new culture of reading books through it,” he said.

Although the project is starting off with 50 taxis from Samkwang, Kim spoke of the prospect of expanding the project so that not only more taxis, but also buses and subways can start promoting reading.

Challenges ahead

Park Joon-shik, a 58-year-old driver who has been with Samkwang Transport for about three-and-a-half years, shared his thoughts about the project during a ride on Aug. 20, the first day of the project launch.

“To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve read books. Since I spend most of my time on the road, and how much we earn depends on how long we’re out driving, it’s hard for me to find the time to read,” he said.

So Park expressed his concerns about talking with passengers about books. “I don’t think I know enough to be capable of doing so,” he said with a laugh.

In an attempt to address this difficulty that drivers may face, Soongsil University, one of the organizers of the project, is hosting monthly lectures to encourage the drivers to become active agents of the program.

But Park raised other concerns as well.

“There are all sorts of passengers ― some tell me to turn down the radio volume or even turn it off. So I’m not really sure if passengers will welcome the project,” he added.

“But I do believe this is a positive movement, and I hope to be able to benefit from it,” said Park.

Another critical shortcoming is the low visibility of these taxis, which look no different from regular taxis, apart from a small logo on the left front door and inside, at the back of the passenger seat. It seems likely that citizens who have no idea about the project may get off at their destinations, oblivious of what was airing on the radio.

And considering there are only 50 of them out of some 70,000 in the city, raising awareness through active promotion seems to remain an important task.

Nightscape of Busan

Korea Times photo by Yun Suh-young

BUSAN ― Autumn is a romantic season. Of the three months that are counted as autumn, October lies in the middle and is perhaps also the peak season of romance.

Spending the season of romance at the “city of romance” may maximize the love story.

The sparkling lights along Gwangalli Beach in Busan create a beautiful nightscape, adding much to create a romantic atmosphere.

The nightscape

The Gwangan-daegyo (bridge) and its surrounding buildings light up at night in all colors embroidering the sea in rainbow. The bridge, which stretches over a distance of 7.4 kilometers across Haeundae Beach, is also called the “diamond bridge” for its sparkling appearance.

A cruise ship, the “Tiffany 21,” runs beneath the bridge taking passengers on an enchanting journey. A tour along the beach runs for two hours starting from noon to midnight. To embark on the most mesmerizing experience, take the cruise at night.

The ship runs at dinner time from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and also from 10 p.m. to midnight. During the dinner slot, passengers may enjoy live music with steak and wine. The late night cruise offers semi-buffet and live music.

On the day this Korea Times reporter boarded, a young man proposed to his girlfriend on the cruise. The scene was like many that we have seen in movies, but without the romantic soundtrack running through. Instead, other passengers on board clapped in unison to congratulate them.

Another great way to view the incredible nightscape of Busan is to take the city tour bus. The bus starts off at Busan Station and makes a round trip around Haeundae Beach, Dalmaji Hill, Gwangan Bridge and Mt. Geumnyeon back to Busan Station. Some tour buses are open top so that you can feel the breeze.

Another recommended site for viewing the nightscape is Mt. Geumnyeon. From the mountain, which is 415 meters above sea level, you can view the entire city, as it emits a soft glow of light. From the top, Gwangan Bridge looks like a glittering stream of light that flows over the water.

The road along the mountain is known to be the most popular dating route for lovers. Along the road to the top, there are rows of cars parked along the side of the two-lane road, leaving just one lane for driving cars to pass. According to Busan residents, the number of cars multiplies at night as the drive way is dark and quiet ― a perfect place to enjoy a private date.

On the way up, there is an observatory where you may park your cars and get a view of the city.

The fireworks

But the greatest nightscape is yet to come.

The most beautiful is available when the Busan International Fireworks Festival is held.

The event, which takes place every year, will be held on Oct. 26 and 27 this year on Gwangalli Beach and the Gwangan Bridge area.

The main fireworks show will take place on Oct. 27 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. On the previous day, K-pop stars will perform on a stage at the Gwangalli Beach as part of the pre-event. Sample fireworks will be fired that day.

During the main event on Oct. 27, about 80,000 fireworks will be set off along the Gwangan Bridge during the one-hour show. The fireworks will embroider about 1.2 kilometers of the bridge. The show involves all kinds of multimedia from laser art to music and video.

“Our fireworks festival is topnotch. We’ve got one of the biggest fireworks in the world. There are fireworks that go up 500 meters above ground and spread across 400 meters. Also, there are fireworks that flow down from the bridge resembling the Niagara Falls. Those who came to the festival say it’s one of the must-see sights during their lifetime,” said an official from the Organizing Committee for Busan Culture & Tourism Festival.

The theme this year for the 8th Fireworks Festival to be held in Busan is “love.”

“The theme is falling in love in Busan. You may fall in love with Busan, in Busan, or propose to your loved ones here. We will hold a 1 to 2 minute proposal event when people can propose to their partners,” he said.

The festival began in 2005 when the APEC summit was held in Busan. The city was thinking of a special event for the foreign VIPs and the fireworks were tried out. The result was a success. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush praised the event and the city began holding it annually since then.

There are about 10,000 foreign visitors to the fireworks festival every year. The organizing committee expects about 1 million visitors in total this year.

Strolling along the beach or viewing the nightscape on a cruise in Busan is romantic, but the fireworks may intensify the experience. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Odesity of the Korean

In bygone days, festivals were lavish religious observances. Even before the Three Kingdoms period, harvest thanksgiving festivals were observed officially in the smaller confederated kingdoms. They included the yeonggo (spirit-invoking drums) of Buyeo, dongmaeng (worship of the founder) of Goguryeo, and mucheon (Dance to Heaven) of Dongye. Usually, festivals were conducted in the tenth month, according to the lunar calendar, after harvests were over.

Sebae is the custom of younger people bowing to respected elders as a New Year's greeting

Sebae is the custom of younger people bowing to respected elders as a New Year's greeting.
The tradition of enjoying the fall harvest and greeting the new year in merriment continued through the later kingdoms and dynasties with each making some modifications. Due to the hectic pace of life today, modern Korea has lost many of its traditional holidays. But a few holidays are still celebrated fervently. One such day is Seollal, the first day of a new lunar year, which falls sometime in late January to late February in the solar calendar. The entire family gathers on that day. Dressed in Hanbok or their best clothes, the family observes ancestral rites. After the ceremonies, the younger members make a traditional deep bow to their elders.
Other major holidays include Daeboreum, the first full moon of the year after Seollal. During this holiday, farmers and fishermen pray for a bountiful harvest and catch, and ordinary households express yearning for a fortuitous year and the prevention of bad luck by preparing special dishes of seasonal vegetables.

Korean Tea Ceremony

Korean Tea Ceremony

The chief element of the Korean tea ceremony is the ease and naturalness of enjoying tea with an easy setting.
Tea ceremonies are now being revived as a way to find relaxation and harmony in the new fast-paced culture.
On Dano, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, farmers took a day off from the field for joint festivities marking the completion of sowing, while women washed their hair in special water prepared by boiling iris flowers in the hope of preventing misfortune. Dano was a major holiday in the old days, but interest today has greatly decreased except in a few provinces.

Chuseok, the autumnal full moon day that falls on the 15th day of the eighth month by the lunar calendar, is probably the most anticipated festive day for modern Koreans.
Endless throngs of cars fill expressways and many institutions and stores are closed for three days. Family members get together, pay tribute to their ancestors, and visit ancestral graves. People living in cities return to their hometowns to observe Chuseok. Airplane and train tickets for those returning to their hometowns are usually reserved several months in advance.

Among other festive days are the Buddha's Birthday, which falls on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, and Christmas, which not only Christians but most young people enjoy. 

A family making songpyeon, half moon-shaped rice cakes, for Chuseok

A family making songpyeon, half moon-shaped rice cakes, for Chuseok
For the Buddha's Birthday, a huge crowd of Buddhists join a lantern parade through the heart of Seoul, and Buddhist lanterns are hung along major streets.

The first birthday celebration
The first birthday celebration
There are several family holidays that are important for all Koreans and that are celebrated with feasting and merriment. They include baegil, the 100th day after a child's birth; dol, a baby's first birthday; and hoegap or hwan-gap, one's 60th birthday, which is considered as the completion of the 60-year cycle of the Oriental zodiac. These special days were observed with much enthusiasm when infant mortality was high and life expectancy was low.

Such occasions were observed as festivals in which even remote relatives attended, but these days they are usually observed by only close family members. As for hoegap, more and more senior citizens are turning to other forms of celebration such as traveling abroad, instead of enjoying celebrations at home. 


‘Gangnam style’ through foreigners’ eyes

“Gangnam Style” catapulted Psy Oppa to overnight global sensation. He is now on top of the world with the unprecedented popularity of his latest single that became the most-liked video in YouTube history. In the three months since the hit song was released it has attracted more than 260 million YouTube views. With the tremendous popularity of the track around the world, the district of Gangnam, which literally means “south of the River,” has also become a place that arouses the curiosity of foreigners.

Psy was born and raised in Gangnam but his chubby appearance doesn’t fit the generally-known image of luxury or snobbishness of the area ― a discrepancy that makes the cheesy horse-riding dance performed by the tuxedo-wearing Psy so funny and ironical but cute.

What is really this Gangnam style? Is there such a thing around the corner?

The simple lyrics of Psy’s song give some hints about the Gangnam lifestyle. He raps about “Gangnam man and woman” who are smart and quiet during the day but turn sexy and fun-seeking at night. The “sexy lady” in the rap “can play when she plays and knows how to let her hair down when the right time comes.”

The video was shot in various Gangnam neighborhoods ― from tourist buses and parks along the Han River to subway platforms and public saunas.

The Gangnam district is obviously benefiting from the popularity of the song, drawing international attention ― a CNN crew visited the district to give its viewers a closer look at the district and ABC gave its audience an opportunity to learn how to pronounce Gangnam.

Gangnam projects an image of rich, trendy, fashionable, sophisticated people enjoying a luxurious lifestyle, but the residents of the area also have a negative image such as being appearance-oriented, haughty, obsessed with expense and snobbish.

In affluent Apgujeong-dong in Gangnam ― often called the Beverly Hills of Seoul ― there are shopping streets selling high-end, exotic goods, top-rated private and public educational institutes, luxurious boutiques, plastic surgery clinics, hot nightclubs and slick office buildings. It’s a smorgasbord of capitalistic desires.

Many foreigners work, live or just hang out in Gangnam and have formed their own ideas about the area.

Big fans of Gangnam

“Everyone in Gangnam looks so busy but I am sure that Gangnam Style fits very well with the slogan of Dynamic Korea. The area is so active,” “Even if prices in Gangnam are relatively expensive,  Gangnam is an international place which is good for foreigners, for example, people can go to a wide range of restaurants such as Chinese and Japanese.”

Confalonieri who has lived in Seoul since Dec. 2006 and is married to a Korean man said, “I like the touristic atmosphere in Gangnam, when I talk with friends at a coffee shop near Rodeo Street in Apgujeong-dong. People in Gangnam are willing to give directions to strangers. They never say I don’t speak English.”

Many people enjoys the weekend in Gangnam.

“Gangnam’s sleepless atmosphere is quite favorite in Seoul city . When people hang out with foreign friends normally visit Itaewon but if I want to enjoy the night with Koreans, I definitely go to Gangnam. 

Once I got an offer from Arirang T.V  to made a short documentary about being a foreign student blogger who share their experience of Korea and blogger as well as to speak about G20 summit. The location was at Gangnam , that was the first time I have ever land down at Gangnam . I loved the place, crow and the atmosphere. I think Gangnam is the hottest place in Seoul City.

City of swagger

Alex Finch, a 26-year-old from the United Kingdom, decided to move to a foreign country shortly after graduating university, moving outside of his “comfort zone on a large scale.” And he chose Korea because he had already familiarized himself with the country’s language by learning “Hangeul,” the Korean script.

Finch has been living in Korea for five years and currently lives and works in Yeoksam-dong in Gangnam.

He said the concept of Gangnam was a topic of discussion among his Korean friends even before Psy’s song was released. The British man describes people in the southern part of Seoul as those who are self-conscious and satisfied with the fact that they live in such an affluent and fashionable area of the city.

“It is looking after yourself physically, making sure you look the part and having a swagger that says ‘I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I’m proud of it,’” he said. “Those who live in Gangnam have an air about them that could be mistaken for arrogance if you were not aware of the area yourself. This obviously is not exclusive to Gangnam. There are neighborhoods in all major cities that are more sought after and this breeds a certain kind of attitude.”

Amael Borzee, a 24-year-old Frenchman working at Korea Marine Environment Management Corp., echoes this view and defines Gangnam with the two words: “expensive” and “appearances.” This suggests that not only is it a costly place to live and hang out in but that people there are fixated about how they are judged them by the way they look.

Korean-Canadian Tony Park is an honorary ambassador for Gangnam who promotes the area. He makes postings on his SNS accounts such as Twitter and Facebook after being taken to various sightseeing spots in Gangnam. Park also has a particular view of the area: “Being a Gangnam man or woman means you are a little bit rich and you can buy whatever you want, I personally think.”

Asked whether the interviewees regard themselves as “Gangnam men and women,” Borzee and Park said they are not within these categories. They feel they do not fit the extravagant image of Gangnam and have rather moderate spending habits.

“(I am) not really (a Gangnam man) because I am not a guy who spends a lot of money,” said Park.

Unlike these two people, Finch almost sees himself as a Gangnam man because he thinks he has certain characteristics of the type. “I like to look good and I'm working on improving myself in Korean, as well as physically. I may not yet have the swagger (despite what my friends may say), but I'd like to think that it will come in time.”

What Gangnam wants

 Source: Korea Tourism

 Whether they like Gangnam or not, these people share similar views of the district: it is expensive. Some share the idea that it is an appearance-oriented place.

“I somewhat expected those responses,” Kim Kwang-soo, head of the Marketing Team for the Gangnam-gu Office, said in an interview with The Korea Times. However, he said, buying luxurious goods is just a small part of Gangnam. “A luxurious shopping district is in Cheongdam-dong. Teheran-ro is a business district in which there are many skyscrapers. The area around Gangnam Station is where members of the younger generations like to hang out and Dosandaero is well-known as a popular filming location.”

“There are many royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty as well. It is a mixed city where modernity and tradition coexist. It has various aspects.” he added.

But he said he is also aware of its reputation as an expensive place and understands that this could be a burden for people who come to the city.

“I wish Gangnam to earn its reputation from its cultural and lifestyle content, rather than from its high cost. To achieve that, we are attempting to promote the city by conducting an honorary ambassador program or opening a Korean speech contest targeting foreigners,” he said.

More importantly, not all foreign interviewees used positive words to describe Gangnam. Some often used somewhat negative words, such as “arrogance” or “extravagant.” It gives residents of Gangnam the task of promoting a good image for the region because they have received a lot of attention thanks to the popularity of Psy’s “Gangnam Style. “ 

Forbes Deconstructs How 'Gangnam Style' Went Viral

Forbes magazine has published an article titled "How Gangnam Style Has Britney Spears (And Everyone Else) Dancing with Psy from Korea." The article points to four reasons behind the global popularity of the rapper's hit song.

"First, Psy is a genuine star," the reporter Anthony Wing Kosner wrote. "He's funny and personable, but also rhythmically acute." The second factor was the charm of the horse dance of "Gangnam Style." Kosner compared it to the Macarena. The dance is "easy to do badly, but requires a little skill to do well. Like the Macarena, which it resembles, this low barrier of entry makes it easy to get started with, but hard to let go of."

Thirdly, the "intergenerational appeal" of the song and the dance fuelled its popularity. As it is sung in Korean, the song is open to "interpretation (and mis-interpretation) in viral ways," which resulted in over 3,670 parodic videos on YouTube.

Experience traditional or templestay during Chuseok / Hangawi or Korean Thanksgiving

Audience enjoy tea during a traditional music performance at the Seoul Namsan Traditional Theater.

/ Courtesy of the Seoul Namsan Traditional Theater

The Chuseok holidays will begin at the end of this week, with various venues around the country offering cultural and leisure activities side by sides.

The Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul has a variety of programs during the Chuseok holiday period, which falls between Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

The M Theater at the center will feature the play “Walking into Moonlight” about the generational divide among family members, starting Oct. 1.

On the occasion of Hangeul Day on Oct. 9, a free exhibition on the creation of Korean alphabet is currently underway at the center until Oct. 24.

On Sunday and Monday the Seoul Namsan Traditional Theater will offer free outdoor performances featuring “ganggangsullae,” which is a traditional Korean circle dance, by Chae Hyang Soon Dance Company and traditional percussion music at 3 p.m. The theater, located in Namsangol Hanok Village, is dedicated to traditional Korean music performances. During the holidays, there will be outdoor performances at 3 p.m. from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, consisting of traditional dance and percussion music.

In addition, the theater has been holding a unique traditional music program every Monday and Tuesday since Sept. 3, recreating the dinner party of the elite class of the Joseon period (1392-1910).

The program takes place not on a stage but at a practice room of the theater, and includes drinks and traditional music. Performers and the audience can communicate during the program. The program will take place on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. Participation is limited to 20 people. Tickets are 50,000 won and a reservation can be made by calling (02) 2261-0511.

Samcheonggak, a Korean restaurant on Mt. Bugak, is a good place to visit during the Chuseok holidays. The restaurant is famous for its premium lunch concert entitled “Jami,” featuring traditional music and food. Jami means not only “good nutritious food” in Chinese characters but also “fun” in the Jeju dialect.

The concert is designed to give both Koreans and foreigners a chance to appreciate Korean traditional music and performances during lunch time. The 45-minute concert features music and performances by traditional Korean ensemble “Cheongarang.” The lunch course includes “Galbijjim” (braised short ribs), served as the main meal on Mondays while “bulgogi deopbap” (rice topped with grilled marinated beef) is offered on Wednesdays. Those wishing for something more green can opt for “sanchae bibimbap” (mixed wild herbs and s with rice) on Tuesdays. The Chuseok Jami will take place on Oct. 1.
 For more information, call (02) 740-3208 or visit

For those who wish get away from Seoul, the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism of Jogye Order, has a Chuseok templestay program at various Buddhist temples around the country.

The templestay program is considered an all-year round program, but the Jogye Order, running many of Korea’s oldest and most prominent Buddhist temples, recently announced a series of special programs at certain temples for Chuseok.

Golgul Temple near Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Hogbupsa in Busan and Daewon Temple at the eastern foot of Mt. Jirii will operate exclusive Templestay programs for Chuseok this weekend.

Participants will be able to enjoy traditional folk games and take part in making Chuseok food, like songpyeon, or half moon-shaped rice cake.

The registration fee ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 won for a two-day program and from 100,000 to 120,000 won for a three-day program. For more information, visit or call (02) 2031-2000.

Throughout Seoul many museums have prepared various performances and folk games to add family fun to the nearing Chuseok holidays.

The National Museum of Korea presents a traditional music performance with commentary by “gayageum” master Hwang Byung-ki on Sunday. The National Orchestra Company of Korea and the ensemble Sinawi will perform traditional Korean music.

Also on Sunday, the Seoul Museum of History will hold a multicultural market in front of the museum. Artists and social enterprises from diverse countries will exhibit cultural art work and children will be able to make traditional masks.

At the National Folk Museum of Korea guests can enjoy a wide range of holiday events from Saturday to Monday. Notable tightrope performer and intangible cultural asset Kim Dae-hyun will present his special skills and visitors can make “Songpyeon,” half-moon-shaped rice cakes, as well as other craft works from many parts of Korea.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How high are you going to fly Psy Oppa ?

Youtube sensation Psy Oppa waves to fans ahead of a performance at Tao nightclub on Saturday in Las Vegas. / AP-Yonhap
As far as I can ...

As much as Koreans are wondering who will become the next president in December, they are also guessing just how far musical sensational Psy will go with his song “Gangnam Style.”

Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, had no idea his music video would go so viral within a couple of months of its release. But relatively fluent in English and full of chutzpah, he is having no problems touring through different countries and appearing on leading American television shows.

He is also setting some unprecedented records, both pleasantly surprising and alarming the K-pop industry.
The song recently broke a Guinness World Record to become the most “liked” video on YouTube and has accumulated over 260 million views. It has also topped the iTunes Chart in 30 countries and climbed to 11 on the United States’ Billboard Chart and became the United Kingdom’s the Official Charts Company’s No. 3. It is a first for a Korean song to ever make it that high on American and British charts.

“It’s huge here. I really like it,” Harry McKinley, art director at PositiveLuxury said Monday in an email interview with The Korea Times. “It’s super catchy but also has quite a cool electro sound that makes it really good for clubs. The video is great, it’s quite funny but tongue in cheek so not too cheesy, it straddles both fun and quirky. My friend is amazing at doing the dance, he has every move perfectly honed!”

Music critic Lim Jin-mo said Monday that “Gangnam Style” is the biggest achievement in Korean music history.
“He is currently 11th on the Billboard Chart and 3rd on a U.K. music chart. Topping both the U.S. and U.K. music charts at the same time is really something — ABBA only took first place in the U.S. single chart once with Dancing Queen,” said Lim.

Making his debut in 2001 with studio album “Psy from the Psycho World,” its title track “Bird” instantly became a massive hit but his music including the first album and others like “Sa 2” and “Sa Jib (House)” have had some critique about the state of the world. “Champion,” the title song of his third album “3 PSY,” nevertheless saw great success thanks to the hype from the World Cup games held in Korea.

Despite relatively successful records, the 34-year-old artist has received a lot of flak from the Korean media for problems with his military service, marijuana possession and DUIs. He has suffered a lot of obstacles in his career and even had to go to the Army twice after evidence revealed that he didn’t serve his full term initially.

Gangnam, the southern part of Seoul, represents wealth, glamour and parties. The fact that this chubby, average looking guy dances in the middle of all that makes the humor effective, regardless of language and culture. The singer actually comes from a well-off background. He went to Boston University and Berklee College of Music in the U.S. but did not complete his studies. His father is the president of semiconductor testing company DI and his sister is a well-known food stylist in Korea. His mother is also a businesswoman who runs a number of luxurious restaurants in Gangnam.

Popular culture critic Kang Tae-gyu sees Psy’s success factor as the differentiation from pop stars.

“K-pop groups belonged to big entertainment moguls who made their way to the United States by trying to imitate existing pop singers. However, Psy created unique content with clear Korean characteristics as well as universal elements such as horse-riding dance movements,” Kang said Monday.

If anyone is guessing how long his international stardom will last, both local and international media are already talking about whether the singer will reach the heights of the “Macarena.” It is a Spanish dance song by Los del Rio that continues to have a cult following. The song is a ‘90s epic that became one of the longest running No. 1s and the best-selling debut single in American music history.
Forbes magazine dissected the reasons for Psy’s global popularity on Sept. 22. It said, “Like the Macarena, which it resembles, this low barrier of entry makes it easy to get started with, but hard to let go of.”

Lim was optimistic about Psy’s chances of topping the Billboard chart since he fulfilled a longtime dream of Korean music industry of ranking high on a Western music chart and proved the possibility of the success of Korean pop music to the world.

“Psy is rising fast in the chart, from 101th to 64th and now to 11th. He will make the top 10 next week for sure and topping the chart is just a question of time,” he said. “Psy’s next single is important to his international career. But for now, he is sweeping the world with Gangnam Style and there is only one thing for him to do — just run as he did before.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Korea has lots to offer

OECD to put tourism on government agenda

Tourism is a growing industry all over the world. Korea is no exception.


 More internationally oriented people, the emergence of low cost airlines, popularity of Internet sites directly selling flight tickets, and new interest in emerging markets all contribute to the growth in tourism.

As travel becomes increasingly accessible the demand for tourism will continue to grow. Good news is, there is growing interest in Korea and if the nation meets this demand and makes the best out of its resources, it can see incredible growth.

Yves Leterme, deputy secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said Sunday that Korea has good prospects for tourism.

He is visiting Korea to preside over the 90th OECD Tourism Committee meeting which kicked off its two-day run on Monday in Muju, North Jeolla Province.

“Korea is a wonderful, marvelous country. I want to come back privately just to see more of the country. You’re very lucky to be Korean,” he said during an interview with The Korea Times.

When asked which aspect of Korea impressed him the most, the former Belgian prime minister said, “Unique development and achievement.”

“Korea is one of the leading economies in the world in terms of growth and agenda setting and this is beside tourism. In terms of tourism, there’s a variety of beaches and mountains creating great scenery, as well as nice buildings. Its culture and religion are also diverse and interesting,” he said.

“When I met (former) French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he mentioned Korea as a country with a combination of beaches and mountains much like that of Europe. He seemed to be impressed.”

Korea has lots of possibilities to sell its products, he said.

“There is an enormous interest in Korea all over the world. Big events are being organized here in Korea. There are new initiatives to market. There is over-attention for China. But Korea is where the attention can be shifted to,” said Leterme.

He said the strength of Korea’s tourism industry was its authenticity and great marketing skills.

“Korea has lots to offer. Please don’t try to imitate us Europeans. Try to be yourself. Show the Korean identity, Korean culture. Specific identity is what makes the difference.”

In terms of marketing, Korea has strengths, he said.

“I was reading a magazine on the plane here and some tourist spots were presented in a very good way. There was an article about Paris and it was presented in such an excellent way. I think Korea has the capacity to market.”

Also the quality is improving.

“People want the best possible interaction. I went to the museum for insects today and it was world level, I would say. People don’t just want to be here physically. They want to get in touch with the culture. In the field of technology Korea is a world leader and this is an enormous tool,” he said.

At this point, Sergio Arzeni, director of Center for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development at the OECD who was sitting in, chimed in to point out Korea’s creativity.

“Korea is moving to creative industries. The Leeum Museum by Samsung is an example. They had three of the most famous architects in the world build the museum. Aesthetic values are becoming a reference,” said Arzeni.

What the organization plans to achieve through their biannual meetings is to discuss ways tourism can play a more important role in the whole world economy.

“We want to put tourism on the government agenda in the states that we all represent. And the committee gives legitimacy to that work. Our advantage is that we work close to policymakers who are the main actors in their representative states. At the meetings, we exchange our best practices, evaluate, and benchmark each other,” said Leterme.

“Putting tourism in the agenda is not easy because it’s not what people first think of. But it involves human activities like food and leisure which are growing domains. We try to be helpful in agenda setting and improve people’s quality of life.”

Before joining the OECD, Leterme held various political posts in Belgium at all levels including the minister of foreign affairs and prime minister. 

King of Korean Holiday : Chuseok or Hangawi festival

Korea Thanksgiving: "Chuseok - 추석"

Chuseok, which was also originally known as Hangawi or the time of an Autumn is a major Harvest festival in Korea or  Harvest Moon festival, or in general Korean Thanksgiving. It is one of Korea’s most revered traditional holiday. Chuseok,  a three day's  holiday in Korea and it is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the "Lunar Calendar", it falls in ‘autumn evening’ and marked as the beginning of fall season and the end of summer (August 15 in lunar calendar)


Photo Credit: Korea Tourism Organisation

Chuseok is usually described as a kind of Thanksgiving for a good harvest, but it is really an ancient holiday dedicated to the Korean forefathers and the ancestors. There is a Korean saying that goes, "Not more, not less just like Hangawi (another name for Chuseok)." The saying refers to the fact that the Chuseok  holiday falls on the best time of the year with moderately cool weather and warm sun and, more importantly, abundant food from the fresh harvest.

Photo Credit: The Korea Times

Foreign women married to Koreans pose with songpyeon or crescent-shaped rice cakes they made in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Sept. 6, 2011. /Newsis

Photo Credit: The Chosun Ilbo

Due to different date calculations between lunar calendar and Gregorian (Western) calendar, the date of Chuseok in Western calendar vary from year to year. 
According to , "The Three Kingdom" history book, written by Kim, Bu-Sik, in 32 AD, the story goes to the King of Shilla, King You Ree. As the stories goes that the king took women from  6 local towns and separated them into two groups.
The King requested  women's to  make clothing to see who the better at weaving were. Both groups had a Team leader who were part of the of the king's immediate family, they were two of his many Daughters. The two princesses organized their groups and worked very diligently to foremost impress their father and secondly to be the better team at weaving. Because of this, the agreement became more or less into a contest and the losing side would have to prepare and serve dinner and drinks to the winning side. "Sound likes a great amount of hard work and stress." 

The women from the two groups weave clothing from the Hemp Plants that grow throughout Korea. They would gather these hemp plants and put the hemp into a simple pot, stemming the hemp then taking it out and putting it into a pot of fresh spring water. After the women dipped the hemp plants into the cold water, they would take off the outer covering and split the plant. From the separated hemp plant they would take strings and put them onto a spinning wheel. From there it was put on a loom and made into clothing. This was a very difficult and time consuming process but, since the King divided the women into two groups it becomes more or less a contest of skill. Both groups feeling the pressure to become the winning side work very hard.
Within one month's time the King and Queen would decide which team of women were the better at weaving. Although the outcome was for the winner to be served by the losing team, everyone enjoyed the feast as well as celebrated with songs and dance. With only one exception the losing side had to perform a traditional song.
The title of this song is, "Hoe So, Hoe So..." This song has a very sad and sorrowful meaning.
As the time went on people change some of the context of the song and now the song's name has changed to "Hoe So Gok!" From this special event that King You Ree requested, was the beginning of a 2000 year holiday, the start of present day "Chu Suk." In the Asian Calendar year, "Chu Suk" was founded on August 15th.


 Photo Credit:

Although Chuseok is only for a day (this year is celebrated on 30th of September), this year the entire country will enjoy a 3-day vacation where most of the people can go back to their hometown and visit families and relatives. Chuseok  2012 falls on Sunday, 30th September 2012. Korean Thanksgiving holiday starts from Saturday, 29th September 2012 until Monday, 1st October 2012.

Chuseok is mainly a celebration of the good harvest, where the Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share feast of Korean traditional food such as "songpyeon" and rice wines such as "sindoju" and "dongdongju". Chuseok is by far the biggest and most important holiday in Korea. It is a time when family members from near and far come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors for the abundant.

Chuseok can be traced back from during the Silla Dynasty to celebrate the fall harvest, Chuseok has been the time for hardworking farmers or an agrarian people to share both agricultural products and the joy of harvest with family and friends. The tradition also can be traced back to ancient religious practices that centered around the significance of the moon, as the sun's presence has always been considered routine but the full moon that comes once a month. Big bright which shine upon the night sky, which considered a special and meaningful event. That is why Chuseok festival take place on the day of the full moon according to the lunar calendar. 

Customs followed during the Chuseok

The hallmark of Chuseok is the solemn remembrance of ancestors. In Korean culture, it is considered an honor and duty to pay homage to the shrines of  forefathers.
After people arrive at their hometowns (usually to grandparents’ house or if they have passed away, to the first son of the family), the ladies of the house has prepared a table to honor and respect the ancestors. Usually food (fruits, meat, canned tuna) or money (in the form of department store gift certificates) are exchanged to mark the happy season.

On the morning of Chuseok Day, Songpyeon (Korean rice cake) and other food prepared with the year's fresh harvest are set out to give thanks to the ancestors through Charye (ancestor memorial service) . Family visit their ancestors graves and engaged in Beolcho, a ritual of clearing the weeds that may have grown up over the burial mound. After sunset, families and friends take a walks and gaze at the beauty of the full moon and play folk games such as Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance).


 Beolcho (trimming weeds growing around your ancestors’ graves)
                                             Photo Credit:

  1. Beolcho 벌초 (trimming weeds growing on and around the graves)
  2. Charye 차례 (an ancestral ritual service)
  3. Seongmyo 성묘(visiting ancestral graves and making a formal bow of gratitude)
These three are faithfully practiced today by a large portion of the Korean population. 

Charye is an ancestral memorial service performed at home on the morning of Chuseok in honor of their ancestors. (This Charye services are held twice a year, during Seollal or Lunar New Year's Day and Chuseok). At the altar for the ancestral ritual service newly harvested rice, household rice wine, and Songpyeon 송편(half moon-shaped rice cake)are presented . After the service, family members sit together to enjoy delicious food that symbolizes their blessings.

Photo Credit: +

Photo Credit: the Chosun Ilbo

After the family has completed the ritual service, visits are made to ancestral graves, and Beolcho and Seongmyo are performed. Beolcho consists of trimming the grass and pulling out the weeds that have grown on and around ancestral graves over the span of the summer months. Seongmyo is the last ceremony of Chuseok. Families visit the ancestors’ grave and make a formal bow of gratitude.

  Beolcho (trimming weeds growing around your ancestors’ graves)


Photo Credit: The Chosun Ilbo

Koreans might say there is no Chuseok without Songpyeon. A special rice cake, it is prepared not unlike a dumpling. Songpyeon is filled with healthy ingredients like adzuki beans, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube,  honey etc. Depending on one's taste, all or some ingredients can be used. This stuffing is then enveloped in kneaded rice skin.

 The name Songpyeon itself  derived from the practice of layering pine needles when steaming it as "song" in songpyeon means "pine tree." The pine needles naturally form a pattern on the skin of songpyeon, thereby contributing not only to the sweet aroma that stimulates the taste buds but also to the cakes' beauty.

 Songpyeon is unique in that the skin used to wrap the filling resembles a full moon but its final shape when wrapped a half moon. These shapes are not coincidental. The history of Songpyeon dates back to times of the Three Kingdoms. Legend has it these two shapes ruled the destinies of the rival Baekje and Shilla kingdoms. During the reign of King Uija of Baekje, an encrypted turtle's back was found which read, "Baekje is full moon and Shilla is half moon." This puzzling code was interpreted to signify Baekje's impending decline and Shilla's rise -- and it came true when Shilla defeated Baekje. Koreans have therefore come to regard the half moon as an indicator of a bright future.

This is also why families come together to eat half moon-shaped songpyeon under the full Chuseok moon to wish for next year's plentiful harvest while expressing gratitude for another successful harvest.

Photo Credit: ( 

On Chuseok day the most significant theme is having a good time.
This is called "Kang Kang Sue Wol lae" ( This is not a exact translation but is very close to it's meaning.)
"Kang Kang Sue Wol lae", starts the night before Chuseok. It is a traditional ceremony of sort, where ten to twenty women gather together and form a circle and sing songs together, basically having a good time. This ceremony is only done by women.

The ceremony is still done by Korean women but only by choice. During this time there is a song that is sung by the women who participate in, "Kang Kang Sue Wol Lae."

There is another famous saying that when, the Moon is full and the women are dancing and singing they look like beautiful butterflies fluttering around. During this time there are other activities that are done during Chuseok (except during Kang Kang Sue Wol Lae), they are Korean Wrestling, Archery, singing folk music, and a game called turtle tag. (Turtle Tag is when a person will be dressed in a covering crawling around trying to catch the other people around them.)

Photo Credit: The Chosun Ilbo


 Photo Credit: The Chosun Ilbo

A crucial part of Chuseok is the traditional food, but the traditional Korean folk games that have been passed down through the generations and traditional Korean dress hanbok are also equally important as people were hanbok and enjoy the day as well as in the night they play the traditional games.

As  Chuseok falls on August 15th in the Asian Calendar Year. During Chuseok, when the moon is full people in Korea believe if people make a wish to the moon, supposedly it will come true. So next time it is August 15th, Chuseok, and the moon is full make a wish you never know it just might come true.

These days, Chuseok has lost a lot of its true meaning, with fewer and fewer people holding ancestral rites, and preparing smaller amounts of food to put on ritual tables and to share. But one thing remains the same about Chuseok, it is still a time of the year when family and relatives travel long distances to get together and pay their respects to their ancestors.

I wish all the Korea blog reader as well as my blog readers a very hearty "Cheosok or Hangawi day".