Sadly I was too busy on the day to take lots of photos like I usually do, but I thought I would share the few I did take anyway. For a full review of the day, check out THIS POST.
Listening to an American Military Brass band open an Irish Festival in South Korea by singing Ireland’s call on a day that many will remember for Ireland’s Six Nations victory, was not something I will easily forget.
Speaking on stage at the 14th Annual Seoul St. Patrick’s Day Festival, The United States Army 2nd Infantry Division band said they were delighted to be there and saw the festival as an excellent opportunity to strengthen the partnership between America, Korea and Ireland.
The event, which took place at D Cube City in Sindorim last Saturday, was an incredible fusion of Irish and Korean music and culture and while there are over 1,000 Irish living in Korea, many of whom were no doubt present on the day, it was the presence and participation of so many non-Irish residents that made the festival so unique.
To watch an Irishman on stage speak fluent English, Irish and Korean to an equally stunned and impressed audience, was a true example of what the festival is all about. It is not simply about showcasing and promoting Irish culture abroad, but it’s about being excellent representatives of how welcoming, friendly and adaptable the Irish people are and how open we are to other cultures.
While Ireland and Irish musicians were well represented on the day, there were also musicians and dancers from Korea, the United States and even China. Listening to Bard, a group of Koreans who play traditional Irish music, play some classic Irish tunes while young kids danced in circles in front of the stage and 1,000’s more soaked up the atmosphere and basked in the first of the spring sunshine really encapsulated the theme of the day.
Other highlights included; watching the crowd look on in awe as Tap Pung, a Korean Irish Dancing troupe, took to the stage and gave Riverdance a run for their money; watching hundreds of waygooks (foreigners) form a human train in front of the main stage while Sweet Murphys Fancy belted out some drinking songs; watching professional photographers click furiously with the knowledge they were getting incredible shots as the finalists of the costume competition lined up near the stage and danced around in a last-minute bid to impress judges and lastly seeing big groups of Korean school children sitting in the audience, delighted with the green balloons and the hilarious Jameson branded “leprechaun” hats which had been given to them for free, smiling and laughing despite not having a clue what was going on!
St Patrick’s Day has always been my favourite holiday of the year, even surpassing Christmas and Halloween in my personal popularity chart, and this year was no different. I have always been a very proud Irish citizen, and this pride seems to multiply whenever I’m actually outside of Ireland.
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Korea this year, however, felt extra special and yet I can’t exactly pinpoint why that is. It could be that it was my first time being involved in the behind-the-scenes organization of the festival, which took 6 months of hard work and dedication by a team of volunteers who were delighted to see their hard work pay off on the day. It could have been the fact that I was volunteering on the day so had a different perspective from the rest of the crowd.
Finally, and this could be the real answer, it could be because it was my first time in celebrating St Patrick’s Day sober in over a decade. Whatever the reason, pride and joy was simply flowing through me like a fast-flowing river on Saturday and no amount of negativity or difficult situations was going to dampen my spirits on my favourite day of the year!
Big shout out to the Irish Association of Korea for organizing such a memorable festival and to all the incredible volunteers who helped out on the day. It was the perfect way to welcome the spring to South Korea and another excellent showcase of why everyone loves the Irish!
To see more photos from the day, check out Stephanie Anglemyer’s photography website at: http://www.anklebiterphotos.com/
Each day this week on the Irish Times website, members of Irish communities around the world will be sharing plans for St Patrick’s Day where they live. Today, I had the opportunity to share my experiences in South Korea and to write about Seoul’s 14th St Patrick’s Day festival, taking place this weekend.
To read the article on the Irish Times website, click here.
Back home in Ireland, preparation for St Patrick’s Day does not involve too much planning, aside from stocking up the fridge, planning crazy green outfits with friends and deciding how early is too early to start the festivities. This year, all that changed for me.
On arrival in South Korea last July, I was asked to join the Irish Association of Korea (IAK), a not-for-profit organisation which promotes Irish culture in Korea. As well as hosting events for the Irish community, it also provides the opportunity for Koreans and other expats to experience and learn more about Irish life. The main event of the year is the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Seoul, now in its 14th year, with up to 10,000 spectators showing up on the day.
Being a part of this active and engaging organisation has given me incredible behind-the-scenes experience of what it takes to plan a St Patricks’s Day Festival abroad. It takes months of hard work by an extremely dedicated team of people. Over the last few months, much of the committee members’ free time has been tied up at meetings, fundraising events and sponsorship talks. I could never have imagined how much time and effort goes into organising one day of craic agus ceoil until I was involved myself.
Now that all the ground work has been done – sponsorship secured, a perfect venue located, great musicians, experienced Irish dancers, story-tellers and local volunteers recruited – we are all very excited for the event to begin.
The festival here Seoul is known for the keen participation from members of both the Irish and Korean community, and this year will not disappoint with traditional folk dancers and musicians playing Irish music, both traditional and popular rock, coming from all over Korea to perform.
Musicians from Ireland will also feature heavily on the bill and the festival will offer an opportunity for the public to get involved, with traditional ceili-dancing, which has grown in popularity every year, taking place at the main stage. There will be face painting and story telling for children.
No festival promoting Ireland and Irish culture would be complete without the GAA present and thus a display of Gaelic football will be hosted by the one of the most successful teams in Asia, the Seoul Gaels Gaelic football team. The Seoul Gaels will also be using this opportunity to seek new recruits for their upcoming season, which starts in April.
The Seoul St Patrick’s Day Festival is the perfect opportunity for people living in Korea to experience Irish culture and get a feel for the wonderful array of Irish talent living here. March 17th is a day when we all think of Ireland and its rich history. To be able to celebrate that here in South Korea shows the extraordinary power of the Irish abroad and I am very proud to be a part of such a great expat community.
With the help of my amazing friends, and quite a few total strangers, I just finished filming, editing and uploading a Seoul remake of the Pharrell Williams HAPPY music video. Considering all filming was done on smart phones and the entire video was edited in a few hours, I think we did a pretty good job. Let me know what you think! :)
Last weekend myself and about 8 friends from Paju attended SantaCon in Seoul, which is a gathering of 100′s of people all dressed as Santa Claus, his elves and everything in between parading around Seoul’s nightlife district singing Christmas Carols and simply being merry.
I ordered 3 elf costumes off ebay and was delighted when they arrived just in time. I also got creative with some fairy lights, colored paper and a giant piece of black foam and made myself a YouTube video / photo booth which I must say I was fairly proud of!
Sadly I didnt take as many pictures as I would have liked (cause I was having too much fun!) but here is a quick glimpse of the shenanigans had on the night.
On our weekly adventures in Hongdae recently (that’s the hip and happening nightlife district of Seoul, for those not in the know!) I have been fading early and am no longer able to pull those all-nighters like I used to. I must be getting old! The thought of staying up all night and then having to face sitting on a crowded train full of other drunk, tired and often queasy revellers for over an hour is FAR from appealing! Instead of booking into a hostel or hotel like most normal people, or making friends with some randomer who lives in the area and pleading to crash on their couch, I have instead opted to spend the early hours of most Sunday mornings sweating it out on the floor of a Korean Jimjilbang!
First, for those not acquainted with Jimjilbangs I better give a quick explanation about these magical places. A jimjilbang is a large, segregated Korean bath house full of an array of hot tubs, traditional Korean saunas, massage tables and showers. For most Koreans, it is part of their weekly beauty ritual and involves going to the Jimjilbang with either friends or family and spending hours washing, bathing, and scrubbing their bodies in order to get super smooth and healthy looking skin. All wet areas prohibit the use of clothing for safety reasons (apparently with the extreme heat of the baths and steam rooms, it is believed that toxic chemicals can leach out of apparel and into the body. Oh and it is also believed that if you wear a swimsuit or cover up you may be trying to hide a disease!)
Once out of the bathing area, the many saunas can help to clear out your pores, empty your body of bad toxins, and can help you de-stress and relax. Depending on which Jimjilbang you go to, and how much you pay to get in, will determine the quality and quantity of facilities inside. Some of the 24 hour jimjilbangs around Hongdae are pretty basic and don’t even have saunas while other big one’s such as Dragon Hill and Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station have up to 5 or 6 floors of facilities including a restaurant, entertainment area, hair salon and an abundant number of sleeping rooms and saunas ranging in temperature from an “ice room” to a 96′c “fire room”! You could easily spend a whole day here wandering from sauna to sauna.
I have had MANY late night jimjilbang experiences in various parts of Seoul, but for me nights spent in the 24 hour jimjilbang near Hongik University station in Hongdae are always the craziest. The last time I stayed there was so bizarre I’m going to share the experience with you, step by step!
I left the wonderful FF’s club at around 5am. I could have forced myself to stay awake one more hour and caught the last train home but that was simply not an option I fancied. I was physcia;;y exhausted from my full days shopping, my disastrous Korean hair salon ordeal and a night of fun and mayhem hanging out in Iteawon and later hongdae with various groups of friends. I headed to the 24 hour “Happy Spa Place”, which was only a 5 minute walk from FF’s, paid 9,000 won (about 6 euro) and was given 2 small towels. some pretty gaudy looking pink PJ’s, and a key for a locker. I was warned it was pretty crowded but didn’t care..all I needed was a tiny corner to lay town and pass out.
They weren’t lying. As I took off my shoes and entered the tiny changing room/locker room, there were bodies ALL over the ground. It was quite the challenge to tip toe over them and around them. While most were passed out, all wearing the lovely matching pink PJ’s which I had been given, some where sitting butt naked in front of full length mirrors drying their hair, others were wandering around, also naked, except for tiny towels wrapped around their head on their way into the bath house. I quickly changed into my PJ’s, bought a disposable toothbrush from one of the old ladies sitting who was sitting comfortably on a massage chair twice her size, washed my face and managed to curl up in a ball on the ground next to the sinks…the only available space I could find!
About 2 hours later I was woken up by the same toothbrush selling Ajamma, who was shaking me and shouting at me in Korean. I was startled and sleep and had no idea what was going on. Apparently I was “in the way” so she made me lie down on a nearby table and told me to sleep there instead. I obeyed and within minutes, although slightly confused, was fast on my way back to sleepy land.
Less than an hour later, a different scary looking Ajamma woke me up by practically pushing me off the table…apparently I was in the way again. It was now 9am and many new people had arrived, while most of the others had either gone home. I decided it was time to, temporarily, get up and check out the public baths that were on offer. The first thing I was greeted with were rows of seats and showers, where you can sit down and scrub yourself til your black and blue. Honestly many of the Korean women I saw here were sitting by this shower for up to an hour scrubbing themselves, washing their hair, shaving, washing, scrubbing, and other stuff I’m PRETTY sure you don’t want to know about.
I opted on a bath that was 40′c tostart off and slowly worked my way around to the hotter baths bit my bit. The bath house was pretty empty which means these GIANT hot tubs were all mine. It was bizarre feeling sitting in this dark, dimly lit public bath house, situated underground in the middle of Seoul’s top party district, realising I was butt naked in a bubbling pool of magic and with not a care in the world apart from the impeding hangover which was fast approaching.
After half an hour I headed back to the changing room and decided to lie down in a different, more secluded corner, to get a few more hours sleep. I was again woken my an ajamma but this time she simply woke me to put a soft pillow under my head (I had been using a wet towel as a pillow!). She smiled down at me, then walked away. Eventually I forced myself to get up at around 11am at which stage the jimjilbang was seriously busy, with a lot of fresh-faced Koreans arriving to spend the day pampering themselves before the work week that lay ahead.
I changed out of my pink PJ’s, got dressed, returned my keys to reception and decided it was about time I headed on home. :)
Last weekend was a disaster. Total disaster.
It actually started on a high note as I had just been paid and was looking forward to doing some serious damage in the shops around Seoul on Saturday. The weather has been changing pretty quickly and while Autumn has well and truly arrived, Winter also appears to be fast approaching. I have been prancing around in flimsy summer dresses for the past 3 months but now that every one around me has started covering up and starting wearing wooly jumpers and winter boots, I decided it was about time I started investing in a new winter wardrobe.
I have also not been to a hair dresser since I left home in June, so you can imagine how badly I need both hair cut and a color to cover up those awful brown roots! I made an appointment for Juno Hair Salon in Myeongdong as I has seen rave reviews online and a few of my friends had been to Juno hair salons and only had positive things to say.
Saturday arrived and I was excited about the day of shopping that lay ahead. I took the train to Myeongdong, which is the top destination for shoping in Seoul, with 100′s if not 1,000′s of clothes, shoe and beauty stores to choose from. The atmosphere alone puts a smile on my face. Well, it did up until last weekend anyway.
I headed straight to Juno hair and was seated in a waiting area where I was offered a drink of my choice and handed an iPad which had a huge array of photography of celebrities. I was told, in broken English, that I could pick any celebrity hairstyle I liked. Out of all 200 choice, there was not 1 curly blowdry, which is the exact style that suits me and the exact style I was looking for. I quickly browsed my phone and showed them what I wanted, saying I wanted a color and a cut.
After a 20 minute wait I sat down with a stylist and explained what I wanted. He took one look at my hair and told me, “Your hair is dangerous. It is dangerous!”. Wow, thanks, just what i wanted to hear!! How on earth can my hair be DANGEROUS?! It seemed he wasn’t keen on dying my hair blonde (considering EVERY other person in the salon had black hair, I wasn’t THAT disappointed for fear they may also dye mine black!) so we agreed that a cut was all I needed.
I was handed over to another girl who washed my hair, continued to comment on how dangerous my hair was and complained that I had “too many hairs”. Now anyone that knows me knows that I have thick hair, but you know what it’s my hair and I love it just the way it is. To be sat in a Korean hair salon for over 2 hours and be repeatedly told negative things about my hair was far from the ideal Saturday I had imagined. About half an hour later I was informed that they were doing a treatment on my hair (yes, they had ALREADY started) and that it would cost me 90,000 won. I was pretty annoyed, as you can imagine, but as they know best I Iet it slide and hoped it would be a good treatment and help the condition of my hair. At this point I was told that the cut would cost 25,000 and the treatment 90,000.
After 2 hours of washing, treatments (part of which had me feeling like I was in a sci-fi movie!), discussing and a lot of waiting, it was finally time to dry my hair, Another woman (person number 4 so far!) was assigned to do this and she just kept saying I had “too many hairs” and making funny looks as she dried my hair in a way that made me look like Mufasa from the Lion King. Not quite the look I was looking for. She then took out a pretty crappy looking curling iron and spent the next 45 minutes, begrudgingly, curling my hair. A few more nasty comments here and there about the quality of my scalp, the quantity of my hairs and a few disgusted looks and I was ready to RUN out of the hair salon with my anger levels soaring and my self-esteem at an all time low.
But before I escaped from this hell hole I was given my bill, which was FAR more than the agreed amount. A questioned the discrepancy and the receptionist informed me it was because I had “so many hairs”. I reluctantly paid up but not before swearing to myself that I would write a damning blog about this salon and NEVER return for round two of “hair humiliation”.
My hair looked pretty good, but it was not the style I wanted and I knew it would not last more than a few hours without going frizzy, I still had my horrible brown roots, and I was 130,000 won out-of-pocket. :-(
I decided some retail therapy would cheer me up. I was heading out with some friends in Iteawon and Hongdae that night so went in search of some shoes and maybe a new dress. After enquiring in about 15 shoe shops if they had my size (Korean 160, UK size 7) I was told by one less-than-friendly shop owner, “No shop in Korea does that size. Too big”. Not only did I know that was a lie but I was less than impressed with her attitude.
I finally went in search of Payless Shoes, an American shoe chain that sold shoes of a questionable quality but in BIG BIG sizes. After an hour of searching, and browsing various blogs for directions, I eventually found the shell that was Payless shoes up until October 1st 2013. That’s right, turns out a store that sells large sizes just couldn’t hack in downtown Myeongdeong. :-( Bad news for all you fellow big-footed expats!
I had failed to buy shoes so decided new clothes would have to do instead. Most of the smaller stores had nothing that would even remotely fit me and some were even reluctant let me in the store…I am pretty tall I guess, and from their perspective I have hips that belong to an ape rather than an average Korean woman. I eventually gave up and went to meet my friends feeling pretty exhausted and annoyed, cursing my genes for giving me big feet, big hair and a height of 5 foot 10 Inches.
Turns out “Big is Beautiful….except in South Korea”.
A lot of images have been shared on various social media sites this morning, such as twitter and facebook, relating to a huge fire which broke out in the early hours of Monday morning in Itaewon, the foreigner district of Seoul. The story was also covered by 10 Magazine on their website HERE.
It has not yet been confirmed what started the fire but reports say it took place between 7.30am and 9am in the area next to the Hamilton Hotel, on Itaewon’s main strip. Reportedly, a whole block hasNo serious injuries have been reported but much of the main road between Itaewon station and Noksapyeong is currently closed off.
More images and video footage can be viewed HERE.
On Sunday, I decided to return to one of my favorite theme cafes in Seoul; The Princess Diary Cafe. Conveniently located near Ewha Women’s University (an area with 100′s and 100′s of Wedding Dress shops!), and hope skip and a jump from the circle line subway, it’s super easy to find and can provide hours of entertainment!
Princess Diary Cafe is pretty much a dress up cafe where, depending on how much money you would like to spend (between 15,000 and 40,000 depending on which dress you choose), you can chill out in very cutesy booths with a group of your girlfriends, sip on delicious smoothies and ice-teas…and try on a wide variety of “princess” dresses! Random, I know!
While most of the dresses are long, flowing, white wedding gowns, there are also some traditional Korean Hanboks and also some very cheesy and over-the-top party dresses that we steered clear of!
As this was my second time in this “unique” place, I opted for a traditional Korean dress while one of my friends chose a full length wedding gown and 2 of the others decided to suit up in Tuxedos!
You can keep your chosen outfit on for up to an hour while you prance around the cafe striking different poses (there is a variety of props to use such as a piano, a fake tiger skin blanket, bunny ears, geisha hats…) and taking a ridiculous amount of photos!
I do think it is a *little* overpriced but as you decide yourself which dress you want to wear, it’s up to you how much money you spend. You can also go to the cafe, purchase a drink and take pictures with al the crazy props without trying on any dress. This will set you back around 12,000 won, and could be a fun option if you are low on cash.
I really enjoyed the 2 hours we spent here, and while I would not go back for a 3rd time, I will cherish the great photos we took and memories made for quite some time.
How to get to the Princess Diary Cafe: Take green circle line (line 2) to Ewha Women’s Univ. Station and walk out of exit 3. Walk down the street to your right when you exit the station then turn left at the Juno Hair alley. The Princess Cafe is on the 3rd floor of the building to your right.