Korean New Year (설날 / Seollal) @ Namsan Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을)

Korean New Year is traditionally a really important day in the Korean Lunar calendar, with most people spending the 3 day celebration with their family. I’ve experienced a couple of Korean New Year’s over the past few years, and almost everything in the city is closed, but there is still a lot for you to do if you’re in Seoul on Korean New Year.

_IGP4730

One of the best ways to spend Seollal is to get involved with the many traditional celebrations happening around the city. One of the best places to get a hands-on experience of the traditional aspects of Korean New Year is at Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을).

Namsangol Hanok Village is located conveniently right outside Chungmuro subway station (line 4 & 3) and at the base of Namsan Mountain.

_IGP4750

Entry to the celebrations is free, and while you’re there you can learn about, and participate in a lot of different cultural activities such as  Charye (a memorial ritual for ancestors) and the making and slicing Garatteok (a type of rice cake).

You can dress up in traditional clothing called a Hanbok, try learning and singing  some folk songs or some dancing, as well as playing traditional games and musical instruments. There are also lots of performances on a big stage to enjoy.

_IGP4728 _IGP4741

Some of the traditional games I really enjoyed playing at the Namsnangol Hanok Village were:

Yutnori – a game where you use wooden sticks to play.
Jegichagi – you make an object using a small metal ring, then wrap it with strips of paper, then kick it in the air similar to footbag.
Neoltwiggi – a see saw that you and another player stands on each end and take turns to jump high in the air (a lot harder to get the timing than it looks)

_IGP4719 _IGP4718

There is such a nice and festive atmosphere at Namsangol Hanok Village during Seollal, it’s a great way to see the beautiful buildings and gardens of the Hanok Village as well as experiencing some traditional culture, for free – from there you can also hike up Namsan for a great view of Seoul!

Korea Tourism Organization “Smart Tour Guide” App

Korea Tourism Organization has recently released their new “Smart Tour Guide” app which is really useful while travelling in Korea. The app is really simple, but very useful – It features audio guides, maps, and information about popular tourist destinations around Seoul and Korea…for free!

Screenshot_2014-01-11-11-42-38

 

Screenshot_2014-01-11-11-45-57 (1)

 

Screenshot_2014-01-11-11-50-41

Some other useful things to know about the app

-it’s available in a few different languages; English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean

– If the audio guide is downloaded while in a WiFi zone, it can be used freely at tourist destinations, no need to use up data on your phone plan!

-If used nearby a tourist destination, information about the nearby tourist spots will show automatically using GPS

-A navigation map that shows your position is available and shows information about how to get to the next destination

-Can keep a log of the places you’ve visited – like a travelogue!

Such a great app thanks to KTO, so if you’re new to Korea or want to learn a little bit more about the places you visit, download it for free from the iPhone App Store or Google Play store for Android and have a listen to these convenient audio tours!

 

 

Gangneung Kimchi Making (김치)

A few weeks ago while eating delicious Sundubu Jiggae at the 400년집 초당순두부 (400 Years House Cho-dang Soft Tofu) in Gangneung, I had the opportunity to learn how to make traditional style Korean kimchi!

IMGP8023

Kimchi is Korea’s traditional side dish – if you’ve ever been to Korea, or even to a Korean restaurant you’ll know that it is eaten in, and with, almost everything! Kimchi stew (jiggae), Kimchi Pajeon (pancake) etc, as well as by itself as a tasty side dish.

IMGP8019

Kimchi is made by fermenting different vegetables and adding seasonings – there are many different varieties depending on the time of year, and location. For example in coastal areas of Korea, such as Hamgyeong-Do, sometimes oysters or fish are used to season the kimchi and in inland areas, such as Chungcheong-Do, they have to rely on using more salts to give the kimchi its flavor. IMGP8021

Napa kimchi is the most common cabbage kimchi, it is the one which I learned to make in Gangneung recently. Usually kimchi is made in each home, and the recipe varies slightly depending on the family – Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that their mother has the best recipe!

The basic ingredients are cabbage, water, salt, garlic, green onion and red pepper. The ingredidents are all prepared then fermented in special kimchi pots. You can easily find many recipes online – here is an example from a great Korean cook I met a few years ago : http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/easy-kimchi

IMGP8022

I had a great time learning the traditional way of preparing kimchi in Gangneung, and even sampled some while preparing, it tastes great (a bit spicy) even before fermenting! As well as being really tasty and great accompaniment to all meals, kimchi is also a super food! So eat it often for great health benefits!

Gangneung Soft Tofu stew – (순두부 찌개)

In Korea, one of my favourite dishes is Sundubu jiggae – which is a soft silken tofu soup with some seafood and various vegetables. It can be quite spicy sometimes, but I love it!

IMGP8013

I’ve tried a lot of Sundubu Jiggae dishes in parts of Korea, as well as Australia, which have all been delicious, but friends that I have from the Gangneung area have always boasted about Gangneung having the best soft tofu soup in the country and insisted that I go there to try it, so while I was in the Gangneung region I had to finally taste it!

IMGP8028

One of the most famous places to eat Sundubu Jiggae is the 400년집 초당순두부 (400 Years House Cho-dang Soft Tofu) restaurant, which is a cozy little restaurant in a traditional house with a nice and peaceful country-side setting.

IMGP8014

The restaurant is located at 195-3 Ma-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea – which is close by (but not within) the 초당순두부마일 – the Chodang Soft Tofu Village of Gangeung.

While at the restaurant I found out that one of the main reasons why this Sundubu is much tastier here than in other areas, is because of Gangneung’s location on the east coast of Korea. The people making tofu can use the salt water from the East sea during the congealing process which makes for really beautiful soft and light tofu!

IMGP8027

When you’re in the Gangneung region, try the soft tofu! It really is the best in Korea!

Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012)

In August 2013, the annual Korean Film Festival was held in Australia. It’s a great event which travels across several states, screening Korean films in Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne.

The 2013 line up of KOFFIA featured some of Korea ‘s hottest recent films such as:

A Werewolf Boy (눈대소년), The Thieves (도둑들), Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자), Miracle in Cell 7 (7번방의 선물), Boomerang Family (고령화 가족), Wathcya Wearin’? (나의 PS 파트너), My Paparotti (파파로티), The Tower (타워) and many more!

The event also included Q&A sessions with directors, KPOP dance cover groups performing, and a short film competition for Australians to express their connection to Korea through film-making.

2013-08-25 17.16.16

One of the highlights of the festival for me was finally getting a chance to catch a screening of Lee Hark Joon’s “Nine Muses of Star Empire” documentary, which was released in 2012. I’m not familiar with Lee’s previous work, but after seeing this film, I’d like to look into it!

Firstly, there are two copies of this film floating around – There was a shortened version titled “Idol” which aired on British tv channel BBC, but it is only 50 minutes long, so I recommend trying to see the full 85 minute “Nine muses of Star Empire” if you get the chance

759-a

The documentary “Nine Muses of Star Empire” follows an unknown Idol group, 9 Muses, through their pre-debut selection & training, up until-their 2010 television debut. The idol group are part of the Star Empire Entertainment company, which is a lesser known entertainment company within Korea. The film was shot over the course of about a year leading up to the group’s first public performance (which for anyone who unfamiliar with 9 Muses, and to put it lightly, wasn’t perfect) and then continues to show what happens after the result of that famous debut of the song “No Playboy”.

Through-out the film we get a real “fly on the wall” insight into the world of an idol trainee group, as the audience witnesses the repetitive rehearsals, busy schedules, endless photo shoots, and everything that happens in between -including the eye-opening management meetings. As the audience we get to see both sides of the lifestyle first-hand – the good, as well as the bad.

What I like about the documentary is that nothing is hidden from the viewer, a lot of which could come as a bit of a shock to some fans who have never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes to bring the perfect performances and flawless images that we’re used to seeing from within the world of KPOP. The song “No Playboy” feels like it is repeated constantly throughout the entire film, which adds to the feeling of repetition and monotony, which is the daily life for these trainees.

The camera work isn’t anything special, and I think the shaky cams, and sometimes poor quality shots, complement the feel of the film. At times the scenes are uncomfortably intense, awkward, and even shocking (but maybe not surprising to most) to see the way in which managers speak to the girls and make demands to the stylists that skirts need to be shorter, as well as how the blame is shifted onto the group’s leader for the absence of other members and in-fighting amongst the group.

“Nine Muses of Star Empire” is emotional at times, as member Ryu Sera becomes kind of a main character in the film, and you definitely start to feel for her and the situations she is put in, as well as the physical and psychological toll that is placed on her and the 9 Muses group members. The film presents the highs and lows, which the girls go through to try to achieve their dream – the joy as well as the many tears that come with being a star and the lengths which they must go to.
Without giving too much away, I think the film ended perfectly (although emotionally) with the song Sera sings solo in the rehearsal room. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the song – but in the theatrical release it is different to the BBC version.

I was really impressed by this documentary, and I think that it worked so well because the director used an unknown idol group rather than an already established group, to uncover the behind the scenes aspects of the KPOP world, as well as Star Empire Entertainment’s cooperation in allowing the film makers to use all the footage, and for taking a risk to completely expose themselves, their company and their new group, to give the fans around the world a full insight into the multi-million dollar industry and what goes on during the making of these idol groups.

This film is for all, KPOP fans, and non-KPOP fans alike (as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles if you can’t speak Korean).  I haven’t heard anything about a DVD release, but I hope it happens eventually and would definitely recommend it to all!

Check out the trailer here: