Saturday, May 25, 2013

Seoul Day: Part 3

I knew this day was going to be long, but I didn't know it was going to be this long. After the disaster that was last weekend's attempted adventure, I wanted to do something worthwhile this weekend. So doing some searching, I read about a dance musical (a non-verbal show where the story is told through just dance and expressions) called The Ballerina Who Loved A B-Boy. Apparently it was a world-famous show that has had runs all around the world for years now. But the current run looked to be coming to a close at the end of this month. I wanted to get on that. So Naomi, Tim, Kira, and I decided to check that out on Saturday at the 5 PM show.

Where the day would start, however, was earlier at my Muay Thai class, which got out at 1:10 PM, leaving me with about 3 hours before I'd need to meet up with the others at the theatre. So I searched more for something I could see in that time. That's when I came across Seodaemun Prison, a museum/memorial of sorts about one of the most notorious prisons during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century. It was pretty highly recommended. And, thus, I had my schedule.

I won't go into much detail on my Muay Thai class. I left for it as I usually do around 10:30 in the morning and got there just about noon. I was really worried it would be super intense like last week and I'd be miserable and non-functional all day. Fortunately, we had the same instructor as I had my first week of Muay Thai, and it was a pretty easy workout (in comparison). So that worry was soon pushed aside.

Seodaemun Prison

Then it was time to travel from Noksapyeong (where my gym is) to Dongnimmun, where the prison was. The trip was easy enough, and the location was really nice. It was a park area with lots of green, and the prison was just a short walk away. However, this is when my two enemies of the day really joined in: excessive walking and an insane mix of heat/humidity. These would slowly wear me (and the others) down as the day went on. (I was at the prison alone--the others were off doing their own things until we all would meet up at the theatre at 4:20-ish).

The prison was really interesting, though depressing. At first it was just a lot of historical information written on these poster/placard things on the walls. And for the most part, they had English translations, which was good. And there were also documents and artifacts in preservation boxes to look at. I started taking pictures of them all, but it eventually came to the point there were so many, I stopped. And I was worried this was going to be the majority of the tour, but thankfully it was just the beginning. The rest would take us to different areas where Korean revolutionaries were tortured or killed or other grisly things, as well as the actual prison cell areas, and many other buildings in the location.

It was pretty easy to get around, as there were signs pointing you in the right direction (you'd come out of an area and there'd be a sign with an arrow and "This Way"). Overall, the whole tour took me about 90 minutes, and it was worth seeing it at least once (not really something to come back to again, though). Here are some pictures I took of the whole place (As usual, I won't show all I took--there are too many. So I'll show a few here and put the rest on Facebook):

The Ballerina Who Loved A B-Boy

I still had quite some time to get from Dongnimmun to Seodaemun (which, strangely, is the area the play was in about 15 minutes away by train). I had about 40 minutes before I needed to meet up with the others, and it was only a 15-minute trip and maybe a 10 minute walk from the station to the theatre. I thought I'd maybe find something quick for food on the way, but there really wasn't anything. And it's not like I had the time, because it came to a point where the crowds became pretty heavy and made transferring stations time consuming.

When I got to Seodaemun, I was thrown off by the given map (which looked simple enough) because I didn't really see any of the landmarks it had pointed out. So I stopped at one point trying to look for an easier map. And after about 5 minutes, I looked across the street/crosswalk and saw the theatre right in front of me the whole time.

I got there at 4:15 and didn't see anyone. I was really thirsty and was out of water, so I decided to buy a Korean Cider (which is basically like Sprite), which sounded like a good idea at the time... except that it would prove to dry out my mouth and make me even thirstier as the day went on. Soon after I bumped into Kira, who then went to go buy herself a drink. And then Tim and Naomi came soon thereafter, having just been on the opposite side of the lobby where I couldn't see them.

The place was really cool. It looked neat, and it had a bunch of different show rooms for all sorts of fun shows. We stood around talking for a while before making our way upstairs and eventually to our seats (we had to stand and wait outside the theatre itself for just a few minutes). And for the "cheap" seats, they were excellent. It was a tiny little room, and we were no more than 4-5 rows from the stage. I sat at the aisle by the stairs, so I had an even better view without having to look over anybody.

And the show was fantastic. It was by far one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen. The dancing was phenomenal and had a mix of hip hop styles (b-boy, pop and lock, and even some animation). There was a ton of comedy and even some scary moments. The dancing was all amazing, and they did some insane things on that stage (and not just the b-boy stuff... at one point the main ballerina lays on her back and lifts one of her legs all the way back to where it's flat against the floor next to her head. The whole audience gave a collective shudder of pain and amazement at this point). And it very much wanted audience involvement. They would constantly break character to get us cheering or clapping, and there was a moment during a "nightmare" sequence where these nightmare creatures came crawling down the stairs next to us sneaking up and scaring people. It was so much fun.

The basic story is there's a b-boy crew who dances on the street right outside a ballet studio. One day the ballerinas are waiting nearby as crew dances and get caught up in a kind of ballet vs. b-boy dance battle. This goes on for a while before one guy in particular shows up, and it becomes clear one of the ballerinas in particular becomes a bit infatuated with him. Eventually, though the ballerinas are teased and kicked out. The main ballerina starts to dream about the main b-boy and how he could be her hero, and she wakes up and has difficulty getting back into her ballet routine. So she tries a little b-boy style and accidentally knocks herself unconscious. She then has a nightmare where all these masked creatures show up all freaky-like, and eventually the main b-boy shows up to save her. She tries to get close to him again in real life, but they make her leave again. So she quits being a ballerina as they won't accept her without teasing her and kicking her out otherwise. She has another nightmare where she is now wearing a sad mask and dancing amongst the nightmare creatures. When that all ends, she dresses up as a b-girl and tries to infiltrate the crew. Some recognize her, but she denies it's her, and they kind of shrug it off. Eventually she shows some hip hop moves, and they start to accept her. They realize what's going on, and she admits she has a crush on one of the guys, and so they hook them up at the end. The end.

The two downsides of this play were 1) she doesn't really show excellent b-boy skills. She just does really basic moves, and you really expect her to be awesome, and 2) there's no real huge conflict or enemy she has to overcome... she quits ballet, becomes a b-girl, and is accepted. I suppose there was an internal struggle for quitting ballet, but I was hoping for at least a dance-off between her and this thug guy from the crew that really disliked her. But... it just kind of ends. And after the show ended, they had the whole cast come out and freestyle dance before doing the final bow and close (oh, and the announcer guy also started doing this awesome beatbox routine before you realize it's a joke and somebody behind the curtain is doing it instead).

One of the most shocking things, however, was that pictures were allowed during the show. Everybody was constantly taking pictures (no flash, though), so we all figured why not? Here are some pictures I took of the show... and then one of me and one of the b-girl dancers after the show (they were doing free photo sessions with some of the cast). They're all kind of blurry, but they're good enough.

The Evening

Neither Kira nor me had eaten yet, so we decided to all go out for a bit of dinner in Insadong. We hit up this place Kira had been to before where you order and pay from this machine and then they bring it to your seat within a minute or two. Mine was good--it was a noodle and mandu (dumpling) soup. A huge bowl for only about 4 bucks.

Kira then suggested a music street festival going on in Hongdae and maybe drinks, so we hopped a train to Hongdae and the walking continued. And even though it was dark by this point, the heat and humidity was still there, wearing us down. The music festival wasn't anything special (for us). It was a neat atmosphere, though, with all the singers and groups in their areas surrounded by people, and street vendors lining every available spot. It's just everything was so super crowded and cars were still trying to drive down the packed roads, and the majority of the songs were in Korean (except one Korean guy singing Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"... yeah). It was just a little much for us, so we decided to walk towards the river and see what we could find there. 

We had to cross from Hongdae to the next area over, which is Sangsu--a really cool little area (and an almost ideal living area), but it was quite a bit more walking to get there, and my knees were really weak by this point. (Tim was getting a bit tired at this point, too.) We actually came by a home of these two guys Kira knows (both foreigners like us), and they were both there. One guy was about to grill some vegetables out on his balcony and invited us up. So we went up and met the two guys, who were both really nice. And we just hung out on their huge balcony (which had like 3 full couches on it), and it was a cool little place. So we basically hung out with them (and a couple more people ended up stopping by as the night went on).

But Tim and I especially were both exhausted, and by 10:30 we were ready to head on home. And it was a good thing we did. The journey from Sangsu to Gunpo was an interesting one. Normally it'd be 3 transfers and about 45 minutes. What we ended up getting were packed trains and 4 transfers because of some issues. Our first transfer was just a stop away, and the next 4 stops after that. This is where we parted with Kira. The next train we had to choose carefully, as this particular line split two ways at one point, and the wrong train would take you the wrong direction. We ended up getting on the wrong one, but we knew it getting on, so we stopped at the next station so to grab the following train. But we had to go over to another platform where we were only supposed to wait for like 3 minutes. We ended up waiting for close to 15 before our train finally showed up. We almost had to make a 5th transfer because we thought this train would be an express, which doesn't stop at every station. But it turned out not to be and we took it all the way to Gunpo--and it was one of the last trains to Gunpo of the night.

We went to a little corner store leaving the station and I bought some water (as I was almost out at home and was dying of thirst at this point). By the time I came through my door, it was 12:05 AM, and I was utterly exhausted. It had been an epically long day, but a fun and interesting one, and one that went places I never expected... as these Seoul Days always do.

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