There were more differences between South Korea and Japan than I had expected. Beth, Craig and I stayed in a super nice apartment in Gangnam, and to my surprise, not once did I do the Gangnam Style dance while there. (In fact, when I started singing it quietly under my breath I felt a sudden rush of shame and trailed off awkwardly.) We were living a street away from K-star Road, the road where most of the major signing companies for Pop stars had their offices, and crowds of people (particularly young girls) would hang out in nearby restaurants and cafes waiting for a glimpse of G-Dragon or Miss A. It was a really flashy area, and I loved the little conveniences like having a PIN code lock the door rather than a mechanical key, and heated floors being standard for an apartment. I could have done without the only window in the bathroom opening straight onto the street though. Got mighty foggy in that poorly-ventilated room, because I dunno, I found it kind of weird staring at passersby while I showered.
I didn’t have much of a plan for where to go or what to do in Korea, but Beth tracked down a few of the restaurants she really wanted to try (courtesy of Eat Your Kimchi) and we travelled to Itaewon, Myeondong and Hongdae in our journeying. I wasn’t really into doing much shopping (and there was quite a lot of merchandise advertised by SHINee and other big name K-pop stars), though I enjoyed wandering through the markets. One of my favourite finds was a small arcade that allowed us to shoot BB-rifles at various-sized targets (so damn satisfying. Happy to see my accuracy is continuing to be above average) and hosted a unique machine that measured the force of an uppercut. Here I am pictured impressing these girls with my intense power.
Of all the really excellent food we had (excepting a chicken and beer restaurant, where I may well have been put off fried chicken for life due to the sheer quantity of the stuff), my biggest cullinary accomplishment was ordering and eating kimchi-jjigae. Keep in mind the only reason I wanted fermented cabbage stew was because it’s one of the four Korean phrases I know how to say, and it turned out to be one of the spiciest things I’ve ever been exposed to. It was a hell of a battle, and several paper towels drenched with sweat later, I conquered that sucker and could readily have taken a bite of the sun to cool my palette down.
The highlight of the trip by quite a landslide was attending the Global Starcraft League tournament. I had not expected to be into Starcraft (though I was prepared to get swept away by the hype of it all), and when Craig showed me a few games I got surprisingly into it. Poor Beth had to put up with a whole lot of jargon as Craig and I got into passionate discussions about ‘lings, banes, medanks, DT’s, Artosis Pylons and the like. By the time we arrived at the studio, I considered myself well versed in the ways of the Star Potato, and I had a heightened appreciation for the intense skill these world-class players exhibited as they performed hundreds of actions per minute, their hands moving in a frenzy on the mouse and keyboard. Craig and I had also come prepared for the moment the camera would turn to the audience (in between or at the start of matches), and we clutched our Hot 6’s for three hours before we got our international broadcast debut. When the camera cut to us, 15 000 viewers saw us raise our cans of energy drink, clink them together, and then scull them. I couldn’t help but grin as the Korean commentators stopped mid-sentence to go “WOOOOOOOOOOOOAH!” in appreciation and talk excitedly about us, presumably saying we were the first audience members to acknowledge the sponsors. The English commentators stopped talking about the game for several minutes while they applauded us and extolled the virtues of drinking Hot 6. On Twitch, the chat stream was filled with accusations of being sell outs, which I will happily claim. To view the moment yourself, click here! https://www.twitch.tv/gsl/v/58917017?t=165m16s
Overall, it was a great couple of days in Korea, and I’m really glad I went. I have to admit, I’m also not particularly keen to return. The culture is more distinct from Japan than I realised, and I have to say the many differences was quite off-putting to me. For instance, the difference in courtesy between the two countries was astonishing; salespeople in Japan almost always bow and call out irrashaimasse! to greet you, whereas salespeople in Korea seem to either follow you around, literally pushing menus and products in front of you, or otherwise ignore you indifferently. Admittedly, I did find it charming many people put their other hand under the elbow of their extended arm when giving or receiving something. In the end, I think it was a combination of the little things (like the language not sounding pleasant to my ears) and the big things (like little old ladies elbowing me as they passed despite plenty of room to walk around me) that make me hesitate to return some day.
Stay tuned for stories of our imminent, and grateful return to Tokyo.