It’s been a goal of mine for a few years to go to KCON-LA. Somehow, something always went wrong and I couldn’t make it. This year, I made it–and learned a lot in the process.
Long before I became interested in Kdramas, KCON-LA was practically in my backyard at the amphitheater in Irvine, the City I Love to Hate. The next year when I started watching dramas, a friend told me that I should go to KCON-LA, but it was held outside at the Sports Arena in Downtown LA…in the searing mid-summer heat. Yeah, when I heard that I was completely discouraged. Shamrockmom’s ancestors who lived in a land that only gets 60 days of sunshine a year (vs. 360 days here in SoCal) did not give her any genetic protection against sunburn and the subsequent skin cancers that plague her family. After seeing what my grandparents and father have been through, I won’t even go out of the house now without sunblock on my face, arms and neck any day of the year. It’s not worth it. Plus I don’t do too well in the heat anyway.
Figuring I’d never see a KCON, I found out too late last year that the festivities were being moved to the Staples Center complex. Translation–indoors and in the A/C. Ok, now that’s more like it! I watched and waited carefully as the day approached this year to buy tickets. I am not a Kpop fan, so the concerts didn’t interest me. I just wanted to go to the convention, and attend some of the panels. I thought it would be cool to hear the Dramabeans ladies talk about dramas, and maybe some other industry insiders could enlighten me about the whole scriptwriting/storytelling process.
I nearly didn’t make it again this year. My life took a whole lot of left turns in the month of July, including:
- A tooth that suddenly decided it was ready to ‘retire early’ and will need to be extracted and replaced with an implant.
- A severe worsening of my ongoing menopause issues, including multiple panic attacks. I finally had to drop my Pharmacology Class–I was overwhelmed.
- Coming down with a horrible cold and fever the weekend before KCON.
- My oldest kitty who was the most faithful companion for 16 1/2 years (and slept on my computer and/or the piano everyday) passed away the Monday before KCON.
- My autistic son was laid off from his job on the Friday before KCON.
- Being on the wrong end of a family betrayal that a Kdrama writer would drool over if he/she was creative enough to think of it! We’ll get to that in another post….
So it was a pretty bedraggled Shamrockmom that hauled herself to DTLA on a Saturday morning to attend KCON. I really wanted to go both Saturday and Sunday, but I have so many health issues right now, I decided not to push it. The convention only ticket was $10, a screaming good deal for a day’s entertainment IMHO. The drive in was not bad at all–45 minutes, minimal traffic and parking was easy but expensive ($20). Totally worth it to park in a covered garage so the car isn’t broiling hot at the end of the day. I got there at 9:30 am, figuring that would be cool….registration opens at 9, festivities start at 10. No problems, right?!
Ticket paperwork in hand, I found my way over to the entrance….and the lines to get in. OMG…it was shocking. They had probably 5 people trying to check in literally multiple thousands of attendees. It should not have been difficult with enough helpers–scan the barcode on the ticket, hand out a wristband, and take the 4 page release-of-liability and legal paperwork from CJ E&M. The young lady in line behind me was in shock too. She said last year it was far more organized. She worked at Universal Studios, and she said that if they had no crowd control and a lineup protocol like this, heads would roll! It was a 3 hour wait, standing around in the heat, trying to huddle under any shade available just to get in. The mom and tween daughters from central CA in front of me had to leave because the girls got sick from the heat. I almost gave up myself, but the encouraging words from a nice high-school age gal who lived locally kept me going. I think she was born in Korea, but came here as a child with her parents, because her English and Korean were both flawless. I’m jealous…she can watch a show without subtitles! We ended up having a long conversation about “The Good Wife” (I was surprised her parents allowed her to watch it) and who our favorite actors are, and I even showed her my blog! I was impressed with how intelligent, mature and thoughtful her opinions were on the shows she was watching.
Dear CJ E&M: Please get a clue for next year, and hire many more people to get everyone checked in quickly! Every minute your audience is standing around outside the venue in the heat is time they are not patronizing the vendors, or spending money on food and goodies like posters, buttons and t-shirts. You are here to make a (massive) profit, right? There’s plenty of places nearby like Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags that you can consult with to get some ideas for having organized lines and check in. It’s not rocket science. You promote the heck out of KCON for months, you know how many tickets have been sold….figure it out! Here’s an idea: I will volunteer 2 hours of my time in the morning to check people into KCON for a free day’s admission to the convention and some swag like a t-shirt, or you can comp my parking fee at Staples Center–your choice. Win-win for everyone.
(Side Note to the youngsters: Never come to your boss or parent with a problem without offering a solution. It shows you’ve taken time to think about the problem and make a positive contribution without being a whiner or complainer. It will impress your boss or parent and better yet–the problem might get solved in a way you prefer!)
Finally, I made it into the air conditioned bliss of the convention center. Ahhhh! Cold air never felt so good. I was surprised there was no bag check–that’s pretty standard these days; however I did see that later there was a bag check before you entered the area where the classes/panels were held, and by then they set one up at the entrance too. This is a family friendly event–as a parent, I would be okay dropping off responsible teens in a group without going nuts from worry. BTW, kudos to the staff at Staples Center for keeping the bathrooms exceptionally clean and stocked.
By the time I got into the convention, I had already missed two panels I wanted to see including one with the Dramabeans ladies. I decided to check out the main convention hall first before the last Dramabeans panel in the afternoon. I made my way up the stairs….and now I know what Kang Cheol in “W” felt like as he passed through the portal in Episode 4.
Whoa…the music and lights, stages set up with all kinds of dancing, the thumping beat of the latest Kpop tunes…it was like I was visiting an alternate reality. In contrast to the wilted folks I was in line with, the energy level here was very high. I think every color in the spectrum was represented as hair color, and often more than one! There was plenty of swag and goodies given away, from water bottles to tote bags, to keychains and posters. It was crowded but not so bad that it would detract from the experience.
I really enjoyed watching the groups that danced to the K-pop hits, and there were stages where you can learn a move or two yourself.
The picture-taking/selfie thing was a huge deal. Shamrockmom has a hard time with selfie pictures, because I am the wrong generation and I am 100% non-photogenic. I wanted to take a lot more pictures of people there, but even though you practically sign your life away giving permission to use your image in video and photos after buying the ticket, it feels weird to take pictures without getting someone’s express permission. I need to use the phrase, “May I take your picture for my Kdrama blog?” instead of being indecisive and shy. Part of the issue for me is that I grew up in a Mennonite/Amish area. It was drilled into me that taking pictures of an Amish person in public where a face is recognizable is in the ‘Don’t Even Go There’ territory, although I believe that has relaxed somewhat since my childhood. For me, taking pictures of friends and family is perfectly fine, but strangers are another deal.
Here’s a pic of a ‘extra’ attraction you could purchase–the chance to be served snacks and non-alcoholic drinks by a Flower Boy in the Flower Boy Cafe!
I did not see any exceptionally hawt ‘Flower Boys’ flirting with the customers at the cafe, but then again I might be spoiled living here in SoCal. A couple of years ago, I was shopping with my oldest son down in Irvine, and we decided to go over to the Paris Baguette inside a Korean grocery store and get a baked goodie for a treat. As I waited in line to pay, I couldn’t help but notice the three young girls in front of me trying to get the attention of one of the guys working in the back of the bakery. It was easy to pick out which one they were interested in–the guy looked like Kang Ha Neul’s twin brother! They were separated at birth and one landed in Irvine, right?!
I couldn’t stop staring…wow this guy must have walked right over from the set of “Angel Eyes”, which was currently airing. His three coworker buddies–not quite as good looking–were giving him mad hassle about the giggling girls; poking him, snickering, and trying to flirt themselves. Meanwhile, the star of the show attempted to maintain a stoic face and pretend like he wasn’t paying attention. It seemed to me that he was actually pleased with the situation, as he was sneaking in tiny glances at the girls. I was so tickled watching this scene, I turned to my son–only to find that he had wandered away and was chatting up a lovely high-school girl as well! My goodness! I quickly paid for our goodies and hauled us both out of there before the hormonally charged atmosphere could get any more intense! I wish I had the kind of luck where I would trip over my own feet, fall and have my lips land on some handsome ahjussi’s lips! The first two are no problem, it’s the third one on that list that I can’t seem to get right!
I’m so into the “W” drama, I had to take this pic of a virtual reality game. Note the lady on the left is holding on pretty tight…this was very popular and there was quite a line.
Bibigo food was here too, and although I cannot vouch for how authentically Korean it is, it’s pretty tasty and often available at Costco. I like their potstickers–very easy to cook, and low in calories.
The Dramabeans panel on Romance tropes in Kdramas was quite interesting. The ladies we know as Javabeans, GirlFriday, Heads No.2 and Gummimochi were there, and it was good to finally put a face to the recappers/reviewers I’ve read so many times.
Javabeans was in a wheelchair but seemed in good spirits–if you read Dramabeans, you will know she recently had surgery. Delayed at first because of a room logistics snafu, they talked for a half hour or so about Romance drama tropes:
- Hate at first sight–creates a spark, messes in a good way with viewer expectations and creates fun banter and interaction between the characters.
- First Love–there is a large emphasis in Korea on first love as we have all suspected, and it’s powerful because everyone has a first love. (my thought: it’s more potent than any known drug!)
- Money and debt issues–will make people do crazy things and that can set up a situation for love to blossom where it normally might not.
- Horrible blind dates–also a highly relatable concept in Korea, due to nearly everyone setting up unmarried friends and family members on dates .
- The perfect 2nd lead guy–generates fan love, can jump start an actor’s career, and reinforces a concept of Fate for the OTP. Fate implies that not everything is under one’s control. Considering how many times in history Korea has been overrun and conquered, this is a way for people to cope. Add in a supernatural element=Fate squared. (my thought: Sounds like Korea and Ireland have some similarities! Land constantly overrun, emphasis on Fate/Luck, issues with classism and hierarchy, long history of storytelling…Hmm.)
- The concept of family harmony is a part of the romance. The family must accept the romance, at some point, or it’s a no-go.
The Dramabeans ladies took a few questions from the audience. First, they were asked to pick their all time and current favorite dramas, which included Coffee Prince, Kim Sam Soon, and Queen In Hyun’s man. Current faves included high praise for Signal, The Good Wife, and “W”, which was unanimously agreed on as the most creative and amazing show of the year so far. I wholeheartedly agree. There are not enough superlatives in my limited vocabulary to describe “W” after 6 episodes!
A member of the audience asked Javabeans the Eternal Question: Why are the endings of Kdramas so awful? The answer is that production is so rushed by the end, and the scriptwriters are also under pressure that the show often ends up with a less than satisfying ending. Javabeans pointed out that it was not just Westerners who grouse about the endings–Koreans are not satisfied with the endings either! Her hope is that the trend toward pre-production will create shows with better endings. That made me feel a bit better about all my rants over the endings to shows. The question was also posed: Would the Dramabeans ladies write a drama themselves? They indicated that had indeed crossed their minds and the possibility of a future drama penned by one or more of the ladies was not ruled out.
After that, they played a game with the audience where we had to guess the name of a drama, but there were certain words the panel could not use in trying to come up with a description. It was fun to see how many shows were correctly named with just a few clues! I really respect the ladies who write for that blog, even if I don’t agree with everything they say, or enjoy every show that they like. It’s a huge amount of work to professionally recap shows like they do, and to moderate the comments because the fans can get pretty heated from time to time.
After the panel was over, I decided to head outside to check out the Korean street food festival, but it was still very hot outside, and getting increasingly crowded as the evening’s concertgoers were starting to arrive. I went to go back into the main convention area….only to find the atrium area filling with smoke and soot! Yikes! The fire department arrived and suddenly the security people weren’t letting anyone in or out of the building. The rumor was that a small fire started on an upper floor, and the air conditioning vents let the smoke circulate through the building, and posed no danger. Nevertheless, as soon as I could leave, I did–it was starting to feel a little too chaotic for my comfort level, plus I was exhausted by that point.
As I drove home and thought about the day’s events, I wanted to say that it’s difficult to describe the joy of being able to talk about Kdramas freely with another RL person, without having someone roll their eyes, make a derogatory comment, or look at you like you have three heads. Sure, we all chat online or email or post comments…but there’s nothing like a RL interaction for a change. I get a lot of crap from my kids about watching and writing about Kdramas, and my RL friends don’t understand either. I used to completely hide my lunchtime viewing from my co-workers; but I am to the point now where I don’t even care, and watch with my earphones on while I eat lunch. It’s good to be in a place even for a few hours, where you can open up and gush about your favorite Kpop band or Kdrama, hawwt dudes and hand lotion scenes…
and any and all things Korean without feeling like you are being judged or labeled a weirdo. One of my coworkers does cosplay for Comic-Con. She has to hide that as well because the attitude at our work is so judgemental. In the great scheme of things, dressing up like a cartoon/anime character or liking Kdramas/Korean culture seems quite innocuous when compared with other diversions.
So what were some of the things I did right?
- I brought plenty of water and healthy snacks. Thank goodness I had the foresight to bring dried seaweed, grapes, nuts, cheese, tangerines, granola bars and a refillable bottle of ice water. Sure, there’s plenty of places to get snacks inside, but they are expensive and full of sugar and salt. The water, fruit, cheese and nuts kept me standing upright in line in the heat for hours.
- I wore light clothing, comfortable shoes, and plenty of 100 SPF sunblock. I kid you not, there were adult women with 6″ heels waiting in line. I have no words.
- I brought a small portable cell phone charger. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this. Every single wall outlet I saw at the convention center was being used to charge up phones. Although there were some free charging stations, they were jammed. I used my phone a lot, and it was wonderful to plug the phone into the portable charger and not have to worry about having my phone die mid-day.
- If you have rollover data that you can burn through, it’s possible to even watch a show while you’re waiting in line! (Note: Here in the US, T-Mobile has a deal with Viki, OnDemand Korea and DramaFever to ‘binge-watch‘ on a phone without incurring a data charge. Daebak!) I had too much fun talking to real people while I was in line to watch a show, but I certainly saw others doing it. Great way to pass the time too!
What would I do differently for next year?
- Buy a 3 day pass and take a day off work. I have a strong hunch the crowds and the lines on Friday morning are much smaller than on Saturday morning, and there’s plenty of things I want to do that I can’t squash into one or maybe even two days. Even though my primary interest is the panels with the screenwriters, directors, and drama-related discussion, I am also interested in taking some of the cooking demo classes, and the Korean language classes. I might even try the makeup/skincare tutorials, even though there is not much I have to work with!
- Leave much earlier. If there’s gonna be a 3 hour wait just to get in, I can easily be there at 6am in the cool of the morning. I’ll bring my breakfast. Also, I’m gonna take a foldup umbrella for extra shade, and a selfie stick because I am height challenged.
- Plan each day more meticulously. I should have had a firmer plan of what I wanted to do before I got there. My bad. I was in sensory overload mode.
- Take more quality pictures. Again, I was overwhelmed and not sure what I should photograph. I will do better next time.
- I am going to try harder to find some RL people to meet up with at KCON. Going by yourself is not nearly as fun as going with a group.
Seon Jae and I agree: Even though the ‘first time around’ might not be the best:
I am sure that next year will be much improved! Hopefully I will be in better mental and physical health, and able to enjoy the experience more than I did this year.