A/N: Just a warning if you have to watch your mobile data use–This is a picture-heavy post.
Also, due to my school issues, I will be on semi-hiatus status until December. If I’m lucky, I might get a post in for October and one for November. I will be back to catch up over the Christmas holidays.
After a fun but less than ideal trip to KCON-LA in 2016, I had planned a multi-day extravaganza for KCON 2017. I even had my 3-day ticket purchased on the first day it was available online, and taken the days off work months in advance! Sadly, I had to do the “adulting” thing and put the major fun aside in order to take a course to give me some better options for working as a dental hygienist in the future. Nevertheless, I decided to make the best of it, and go on Sunday. What a difference a day–and a year–make!
Last year, my older autistic son had just been fired from his job. Today, he is the manager at a pizza take-out restaurant nearby and is happier than he’s ever been. My daughter has her own apartment (yay!) and is teaching English at a community college about two hours away. My younger son has a wonderful new girlfriend, and he’s happy too. I have a new kitten who is both the sweetest and smartest cat I have ever owned. My health is better. My dental issues are on the upswing. I’m continuing with my piano lessons, which is great fun. The anxiety issues are still there, but the panic attacks are back down to zero. I’m doing something positive for my career–and getting to hang out with my bestie while I’m doing it! I still haven’t been able to get her hooked on K-dramas. The Friday before I went to KCON, she took me to Tofu Ya, my favorite West Side soondubu (순두부) place. It’s Shamrockmom’s ultimate comfort food joint, and unlike Kaju Tofu ( 가주순두부) in Garden Grove K-town, there’s no hurry to finish a meal because people are waiting for a table!
This year, I was able to secure an indoor reserved valet parking spot at a hotel near Staples Center for $15, less than the $20 I paid last year! Yesss!! It was only a 10-minute walk to the LA Convention center–not bad at all. I came fully prepared: comfortable shoes, plenty of healthy snacks, ice water, sunblock and a phone charger. What a shock! The legendary check-in lines from last year–gone. I walked right up at 8:30 am and handed them my barcoded ticket. I then waited outside for about an hour–the cool temperatures and overcast sky this year made it quite bearable. At 9:30 they started to let us into the building, and at 10 am sharp–I got in! No 3-hour wait in the blazing sun. No people passing out from heat exhaustion. From my conversations with the folks I was in line with, I think most of the Sunday attendees had been there on either Friday or Saturday (or both) and already had a wristband. I did hear that Saturday was full of long lines and craziness, so maybe it’s just the Saturday experience that is bad. This year’s wristband was very comfortable; a ribbon with a small chip embedded in the little plastic card:
I was assured by the staff it was waterproof, so no worries about getting it wet! Good–I’d rather not imagine everyone there not taking a shower for 3 days! That would be one pungent group by Sunday!
The Flower Boy Cafe was here again this year:
This year, DramaFever gave it a shout-out, only to have the commentators rip the entire concept to shreds. Holy Cow! The consensus was that it’s exploitative of the young gentlemen who were hired as the ‘flower boys’, and that as ahjummas, they wouldn’t be caught dead “looking like old Cougars”!
I’d have to agree that is true on some level, although the young men are modestly clothed and paid well for their time. What do my three readers think? Is it harmless fun or not?
Maybe KCON needs to rework this add-on experience. What would be fun for us ahjummas? How about a cafe with more uhhh….hot ahjussis? Perhaps serving fruit smoothies or coffee? (I like my coffee iced. Hot ahjussis + Iced coffee. Daebak…!) The guys would not be 20-29 (like our nephews or our sons and their friends, lol!) but more like 35-50 (especially if they look like Cha In Pyo does at 50!)
This young lady was working at the Lego booth, which was advertising a new movie out later this month:
Bibigo Foods was here again, but this time they had samples! I had the bibimbap, and although it’s nothing like having real Bibimbap served in a sizzling stone bowl with a freshly fried egg on top at Tofu Ya or Kaju, it’s not bad for something easy to heat up and fix after a long day at work. I am seeing more Bibigo foods at Costco and other American grocery stores around my area than I did a year ago. Two thumbs up!
Yes, the dental hygienist in me had to take pictures of the toothbrushes for sale!
Unfortunately, my Korean skills are not good enough (yet) for me to converse with the rep here (who sorta hid from my picture taking) and determine which brushes are soft or ultra soft. Those are the only ones you should be using; medium or hard bristles eventually destroy both teeth and gums. I should have just bought one and tried it out. I hope next year I can speak to him in Korean and hand him my business card–with two hands of course.
Even McDonalds was at KCON-LA to represent!
They gave away this nice, sturdy shopping bag, but no samples or coupons. Crumbs!
I took some pictures at the Innisfree booth, but this is the only one that came out:
However, I did get some very cool samples and stickers:
Here are some pics from Lotus Cosmetics…this kind young gentleman who let me photograph him helped this dino ahjumma post her first photo to Instagram!
The amount of swag (aka promotional freebies or goodies) I got this year was simply amazing. I think I was too ill, overwhelmed, and reticent last year. I don’t think I even got everything I could have this time. I can’t imagine the haul if I had been here for 3 days! Let’s look at some of the goodies before I get into the 3 panels I attended–all of which were awesome. Apologies for the shadows:
Okay, enough bragging! Let’s move on to the panels I attended. The first panel was about living and working or going to school in South Korea as a foreigner:
Joan Kim and Edward Avila are two YouTube beauty vloggers and good friends. Joan left Korea with her parents and grew up in NYC, but now she is back in Korea FT. Edward moved from California to Korea about 4 years ago. They are both 25–so they’re close to the age of my kids. Edward was recently interviewed by Allure magazine. (link). Some of the interesting things I found out about living in Seoul:
- All city buses and the subway system have free wi-fi. Amazing!
- Public transportation is cheap in Seoul–Edward said it was half the price of public transportation in San Francisco (which is one of the only places in CA that has decent public transit services. Cost of a bus ride one way in SF is $2.50 USD for reference)
- Taxis are also cheap–roughly $15 for a 40-minute trip.
- The heat/humidity in the summer is almost unbearable, and the winter is bitterly cold. Bring layered clothing. (Note–if Edward is from SoCal, I don’t doubt he feels like this. Most of the time the weather in SoCal is very pleasant. When it’s not, everyone complains loudly and blames every woe in their life on the weather. I’m including myself, as I sit here at the computer with a fan blowing on me in ungodly 93F heat and 87% humidity today. No central air conditioning yet at Shamrockmom’s house. We’re working on it!)
- Air quality in the summer is bad due to dust storms from China.
- Seoul is very safe at night. Obviously, you can’t be stupid, but there are a lot of people out and about–probably because in the summer, it’s cooler at night!
- Quick service delivery is everywhere and used frequently. Cost: About $20 for a small package delivery within Seoul in a 2-hour window. Just like in “Secret Love Affair”, the delivery guys/gals use motorcycles to avoid the insane traffic.
- Rent is astronomical in Seoul, but more affordable elsewhere. $5000 USD deposit, $900/mo rent in a suburb of Seoul, but it will take time to commute into the city. In a more rural area, it might be only $200/mo.
- Goshiwons (고시원) have rooms smaller than a dorm room–more like a broom closet IMHO, with paper thin walls, and sometimes without a window. (I’d die of claustrophobia.) They often have a shared bathroom, and a shared kitchen with free rice, ramyun, and kimchi. The accommodations are cheap and might be an option if you are traveling solo. (Link to interesting article about goshiwons from Korea Expose.)
- There are many different kinds of visas for students, teaching, entertainment, and for non-native Koreans….better make sure you have the right one because the Immigration Office is like the DMV! (Department of Motor Vehicles, long regaled here in CA as the ultimate in bureaucratic nightmares with its long lines and indifferent, clueless employees.) They strongly emphasized: You can and will get deported asap if you screw this up! So don’t mess around with your paperwork or overstay your visa!
- It’s pretty much cheaper to eat out–groceries are expensive and a family of 3 will easily blow out over $200 for a week’s chow. It can be difficult to eat in restaurants if you are vegetarian/vegan, but it is getting easier. Eating at Buddhist temples was suggested for vegans.
- Many stores combine a cafe, makeup/skincare store and a clothing store all in one. Innisfree has 3 stores like this in Myeongdong alone! (I’d probably never leave!) Larger sizes are available at retail stores, but the night markets in Hongdae or Samcheongdong which are much cheaper, and more cutting-edge trendy only carry regular sizes (which are smaller than US sizes, I believe). Fashion trends change quickly and are followed closely. My thoughts: Sizing varies so much–when my son traveled to Great Britain, the company asked him for his size so they could have a polo shirt for him to wear. In the US, he typically takes a Men’s medium. In the UK, the medium shirt they gave him looked like it would fit a 10-year-old.
Next up was a panel called “Understanding Korean Culture through Dramas“. I was somewhat surprised to see that the presenter of this panel was Hyunwoo Sun, who I’ve seen many times in the Talk to Me in Korean (TTMIK) videos on YouTube.
Easily the most interesting panel of the day for me, he ran about 15 minutes over and honestly if I hadn’t wanted to check out the third panel so much I would have stayed longer for the continuation of the Q&A session afterward. Here are some excerpts from the notes I took:
- Many of today’s drama writers who are currently in their 40’s to 60’s grew up hearing unbelievably scary stories from their parents and grandparents about growing up under the Japanese Occupation. This might be why there has been–and will continue to be–a lot of dramas from that time period.
- After the Korean War (1950-1953) everyone was poor. Hyunwoo-ssi said he lost his grandfather in the Korean War.
- There was no bottled water in Korea for sale to the general public prior to the Olympics in 1988. (However, I can tell you that the Lotte Hotel supplied imported bottled water for foreign guests like my Dad back in the early ’80’s.)
- Korean parents, like parents everywhere, wanted a better life for their children. In the 1990’s that meant a college education for their child. Today, it means being able to be fluent in English and have a college education. Other languages are good, but the big goal now in Korea is for the kids to learn English.
- Physical punishment in schools is the real deal. Hyunwoo-ssi told us about how an entire class would be punished for the action of one student. He would come home with bruises, and his parents didn’t even bat an eye! (That might merit both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit here in the US.) This is slowly changing, mostly due to the fact that people see that it’s not done in Western society.
- Domestic Violence also is the real deal. Parents hit kids, wives hit husbands, husbands hit wives, in-laws hit sons/daughters in law…..it’s very prevalent and rarely reported. SMH.
- The whole ‘tension with the in-laws’ thing happens at every level of society–but is also slowing down.
- Regardless of the drama genre, nearly every K-drama has a focus on romance.
- Other typical themes include time travel, history, mythology, birth secrets (!), in-law issues, rich vs. poor, and military based dramas–including North vs. South issues which are typically very popular with native Koreans.
- High school romances are especially popular because most junior high and high schools are segregated into girls-only schools and boys-only schools. Hyunwoo-ssi said he went to an all-boys junior high and high school–and that he was thankful that college was co-ed! It is a very atypical experience to have a high-school romance in Korea, unlike here in the US.
- Hyunwoo-ssi said that the reason “Criminal Minds” was tanking in Korea (the ratings have gone down every week) was the fact that the show had characters using guns–and that’s not how the police operate in Korea. Realistic for the US–but not Korea. I haven’t seen the US or the Korean version, so I can’t say much. Obviously, the US version of “Criminal Minds” didn’t translate too well culturally.
- The typical main male character in a drama is the son of a billionaire–and that is because traditionally in order to marry, the husband has to have a home ready for his wife. Housing prices are so high in RL, it takes a super rich guy to get a home in Seoul. This fictitious rich young chaebol always has a soft spot or strange weakness that can be exploited and is usually very down to earth regardless of his economic status. Typically he currently lives in either a fancy home….or a shabby rooftop apartment.
- In RL, most rooftop apartments are added on after the city’s building inspector has made his rounds. Of course, they are not anywhere close to being in code. They are extremely common due to the short supply of reasonably priced apartments and provide the building owner with an additional source of income.
- The typical main female character is both very poor and very pretty. Society in Korea places a high value on physical beauty. Her morals are high, and she knows money is not everything. This will allow her to refuse the cash envelope the main male character’s mom tries to give her so the young lady will stay away from her son! The main female character also has some other woman in her circle that will be jealous of the relationship between the main characters, and cause trouble for the OTP.
- The economic disparity in South Korea also fuels a lot of these drama plots. Hyunwoo-ssi said that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger and larger, plus the fact that the rich people who have power rig things (like the laws) to benefit themselves.
- The question was raised about blood type, and why it seemed like a lot of importance was placed on that factor in K-dramas. He said the concept originated in Japan, and blood types were noted by doctors during immunization programs. It’s not really taken too seriously–it’s more like reading your horoscope.
- Movies are much more realistic than televised dramas. Why? They have independent investors! The three main networks (KBS, SBS, and MBC) all have financial ties to the government–and as such, are subject to government censorship of content. (See this exceptionally relevant post from Dramabeans about how this system is not working too well right now!) Cable networks like TvN and JTBC have a bit more freedom, but the government censors can crack down on them as well.
I was impressed at how Hyunwoo-ssi learned English almost on his own, and how good his English was. He has a very minimal accent and is easy to listen to on the videos or in person. He apologized for being jet-lagged since he flew over from SK and was up for about 48 hours with 3 hours of sleep! Here’s a great video where he talks about his life growing up, his schooling, military service–and his break dancing hobby!
He took questions and answers from the audience, and he was kind enough to take my question. We had been talking about the fact that movies were often more realistic than dramas, and since he had mentioned he was born in Gwangju–and his mother was running around dodging bullets while she was pregnant with him–I asked if he or his mom had seen “A Taxi Driver“–and if so, how realistic was that movie? He said he hadn’t seen it–but his mom had–and she said it was pretty much the truth as to how things were at that time! Whoa! Is there a better validation of that movie than a person who lived in Gwangju at the time like his mom did?!
For me, this is the kind of experience that can’t be duplicated. As much as I’d love the panels to be videotaped and available later on YouTube, the live factor makes me carve time out of my schedule, get in the car, drive to LA and be here in person. I admit I felt vaguely ashamed of myself for being so anxious about my current problems and stressing about the course I’m taking. It doesn’t compare to being pregnant and dodging bullets to go grocery shopping or to the doctor. I need to remember how comparatively easy my life is.
BTW, you could do much worse than trying to learn Korean with the TTMIK folks. Even my teacher liked their format. If I lived in an area with no Korean community nearby, I would definitely go for it. (Update: My wonderful teacher had a dispute with the language school and quit last week! I was so bummed–it was part of the reason this post wasn’t done a week ago. Stay tuned for more updates as I am now enrolled at the new Korean-American center in Buena Park–I think it’s an offshoot of the Irvine group–for a 10-week traditional classroom experience. It’s right next to the theater in Buena Park–and the classroom is next door to a brand new soondubu restaurant! I know where I’m going for dinner after class! **happy-dance**
I was late to the last panel of the day, but luckily they let me in anyway! This was a panel on traditional Korean foods that will be featured during the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang:
Conducted entirely in Korean, the presenter (in the hanbok) had a young lady translating for her. There was supposed to be an actual cooking demonstration, but they found out at the last minute that no cooking would be allowed. I believe the small fire that occurred at the end of the day at last year’s KCON-LA was the reason for the ban this year. The organizers at the Korean Cultural Center (KCCLA) instead made everything ahead of time and brought it over! (Note: KCCLA was the place I wanted to take the Korean Language Class, but couldn’t make it due to the traffic.) Here is the recipe for one of the samples I got. I was so hungry by this time, that even though it was cold, it did not detract from how delicious it was!
I am sorry I didn’t take a picture of the food–like I said, I was too hungry! We also were served a portion of Japchae which was the best I’ve ever had. Darn that LA traffic–I could be eating this every week at my Korean Language class! The recipe for the japchae can be found by going to hansik.org and then downloading the “200 Korean Menu Guide” app for Apple or Android phones. It’s under “Stir Fried Glass Noodles and Vegetables”. BTW, that app has recipes for pretty much every single dish I’ve seen in a K-drama. It’s all in English and has pictures which bad cooks like Shamrockmom desperately need. Yes, there are some recipes that call for ingredients that you might need a local Korean market to get them, and there are some recipes that are very complex–like how to make your own soy sauce and soybean paste. However, there are plenty of recipes that even an extremely novice cook like Shamrockmom could probably tackle. Since it was late on Sunday afternoon, they gave away all kinds of promo items and goodies so they didn’t have to pack them back up, and we got as many samples of the food as we wanted for the same reason. Ohhh, it was so good!
Interestingly, the lady who sat next to me could not eat the samples due to her food allergies. She came to the panel so she could learn to make the food she sees in K-dramas at home and work around her severe allergies. When I said,”잘먹겠습니다” (Jalmeokgetseumnida or “I am going to enjoy the food”, aka ‘Thanks for the food’) to the young lady who served me, I thought her jaw was gonna hit the ground. She asked about my Korean lessons and then told me, “Oh, I could never learn Korean. It’s too difficult. And I’m too old!” Suddenly, I could hear the words of my teacher (who I already miss terribly) coming right back out of my mouth: “That’s not true! Don’t negative self-talk yourself out of giving it a try. Of course, you can learn Korean. Yes, it takes time and there will be days or weeks you feel like you aren’t making progress, but you are! Don’t give up and you’ll make it!”
(If this classroom experience doesn’t work out, I’m going to email my former teacher and see if we can meet up at a park or a library. I don’t know who was at fault in the dispute, and I don’t really care. I lost either way. I could probably e-mail him now, but I think I will let things quiet down for a while. I tried to not burn my bridges at Portal Languages either, but I let them know I was taking my business elsewhere. The new teacher they found for me was nowhere nearly as dynamic and positive as my former teacher.)
After that panel was over, I was getting tired, but I couldn’t resist going over to the KCON-LA Street Food festival. It was late in the day, but I wanted to buy something else yummy to take home for a late dinner since I had just eaten a late lunch. It was very hot and crowded, but I managed to buy some bulgogi for dinner and a cold drink for the trip home.
So…..what will I change for next year, besides my schedule, lol?! I didn’t bring a selfie stick because the website said they weren’t allowed, but everybody and their brother had one. I am buying a cheap one and stashing it in my bag. Also if I go on Friday, I am going to drive to nearby Long Beach and catch the Blue Line train into DTLA. There’s no way I’m fighting commuter traffic in and out of downtown on a workday. This will be a Serious Adventure for Shamrockmom, who has not been on public transportation more than 5 times in her entire adult life. I think the last time I was on public transportation was in 1995 when the Green Line opened up in Norwalk. My two oldest kids were still little, and we rode the train from Norwalk to Redondo Beach and back because it was free the first week. They had great fun on the train, while I looked out the window and contemplated the desolate landscape of South Central LA, still rebuilding and recovering from the Rodney King riots three years earlier.
That leads into my upcoming post about those riots and a very thoughtful movie I recently attended with a provocative title, and a second-generation Korean-American viewpoint on that time. Watch for my review in a few weeks!