I’ve come to notice in Korea that few people past their twenties will openly admit that they watch anime, read manga, game, or collect toys. That said, I was surprised to see that a variety of toy conventions pop up in Seoul year-round, and each one well attended by almost exclusively adults. So while I felt like a lone nerd when I initially moved to Seoul, over time I realized that this country is full of people just as nerdy as me; however, unlike me, most don’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.
Here’s me full of wide-eyed wonderment before entering the con. It’s a bit smaller than some of the other toy and pop culture cons in Seoul (i.e. Seoul Kidult Fair) but it still made me giddy as hell. The majority of the convention consists of exhibit and sales space for indie toy designers, although you can also find a couple booths selling nendoroids, Gundams, anime and Sanrio blindbox toys peppered throughout.
Last year while I was working as a kindergarten teacher in Seoul, one day I had to take my students to a puppet show. The puppet show was entirely in Korean, so I never understand exactly what was happening, but I did know one thing–it was about poop. I sat through an entire maybe 30-40 minute long puppet show about farting raccoons with indigestion that had to battle evil alien space poops. Why am I telling you this? Well that whole puppet show served as my introduction to Korea’s interesting relationship with poop. In a country that has a toilet-themed park and a well-known dung-obsessed cartoon character, that puppet show really wasn’t all that odd.
Might I also add that maybe only a week or two after arriving in Korea I was quickly introduced to “dong chim” aka “poop needle” aka the “funny” prank some of my students would do where they’d make their hands into a gun shape and try to poke their fingers up my butt. All that said, when I found out there was a poop-themed cafe just a couple train stops from my house, I was a little less surprised than you might expect.
Myeongdong area in Seoul is an all-around great place to visit. Its glittering streets feature both high end and budget shopping, row after row of killer street food vendors (i.e. stuffed clams and fresh pomegranite juice), and not to mention random celebrity sightings. But the area that I really love in this trendy shoppers haven is the quiet yet colorful Zaemiro street aka Seoul Comics Road.
Featuring statues, signs, and street art, Zaemiro is lined with art from comics and animations around the world. It’s a somewhat meandering street and at times not the most pedestrian-friendly, but that’s in part what gives it its charm. A trip there gives you a chance to explore–you never quite know where you’ll find the next art installation. And the work itself ranges from cute and conventional to wtf (beefcake Pikachu? ehhh).
Let me be honest about something–I never quite got the hang of Seoul Comic World. So far I’ve attended five events, so don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the cons a whole hell of a lot. What were my issues? Well, obvious challenges arose, such as cultural differences and language barriers. What I hadn’t expected, however, was an abundance of rules that cosplayers were asked to adhere to. And while it was navigating all those rules that ended up making me feel a little bit off to the sidelines, it also ended up teaching me a lot about the state of the anime fan in Korea.
I occasionally have grouchy “back in my day” moments where I lament how mainstream cosplay has become, but overall I’m quite happy about how accepted it’s become. I love that conventions are nerdy free-for-alls and how, when a convention rolls to town, most cosplayers will cruise through streets and parking lots without much of a care. With nothing but US con experiences under my belt, I went to Korea expecting that same sort of atmosphere, only to find out, not so much…
To further explain, first it’s important to note that Seoul Comic World is an event that ends in the early evening. Its a day trip thing, not a save-and-plan-all-year-and-book-a-hotel-room thing. Therefore the question arises–how exactly do I cosplay? (more…)
Perhaps I’m a little bit spoiled in that I expect virtually every nerd event to involve toys. So while Seoul’s monthly anime cons were like a cosplay miracle, the fact that none of these cons had toy or figure vendors sort of put me in a panic. Where are my toys? How can you deprive a nerd of their toys? Thankfully the Seoul Kidult Fair helped to assuage my fears that I would leave Korea without an opportunity to fangasm over some sweet figures.
The Kidult Fair is an annual toy and hobby expo, hosted in a convention hall within the Coex megamall. It’s a combo of toy vendors, industry innovators promoting their products (i.e. 3d printers), contests, and toy and art exhibits, along with a massive gaming space. For someone like me, it was an endless heart-attack risk. I ran amok with the hyperness of a child, scouring through bins of discounted anime figures and marveling at the display of BJD dolls.
One of the more notable sights was the exhibit of felt sculptures and papercrafts. At the end of the exhibit there was an area to buy your own papercrafts, along with a workspace where you could assemble your purchases–with the aid of staff members if need be. Well aware that I lack goth the patience and precision for that, I was happy just admiring the pieces and identifying my favorite video game and anime characters.
Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki.
For fans of anime and animated films in general, those words should bring some very distinctive images to mind. Scenes of magic, warmth, and unparalleled beauty and depth. Studio Ghibli–the studio behind memorable films such as Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro–makes the kind of films that captivate and leave viewers in awe. These are the kind of films you wish you could step inside and experience again and again. Luckily, those in Seoul get to do just that.
During my recent trip to Japan, I took a trip to the official Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka. And while the experience was a lovely and emotional one, it was not nearly as immersive and squeal-inducing as this temporary exhibit.
Tucked away in the mega shopping plaza, i’Park Mall, the exhibit is a magical and detailed Studio Ghibli fan’s dream. (more…)
There are so many wonderful and breathtaking things to explore in Aeoul, but I’ve realized that while traveling in general, one should never set their expectations too high. As someone who’ll soon be able to say that she’s visited all of the countries she’s dreamt of seeing since she was a child (Korea being one, Japan the other) I’m working on perfecting this whole “reasonable expectations” thing. I bring this up because I have accounts to share about my two recent adventures–to the Hello Kitty Cafe and to Seoul Comic World. Some aspects of my adventures were surprisingly amazing, while others, not so much. Let me elaborate ^^
HELLO KITTY’S PINK-HUED PANDEMONIUM
The Hello Kitty Cafe is a cotton candy-hued building nestled away in a hilly side street in Hongdae. I’ve been there twice–on a Saturday and Sunday–and as one might expect, the experience varied drastically depending on the day. It’s a sought after destination for tourists and kawaii girls no matter what day, but if you show up on a Saturday, anticipate that it could be a madhouse.
When it comes to underground subcultures, there are a couple of things you may not have known about South Korea. Earnest, unironic ska music is alive and well (no really, it is), they have a unified hardcore scene, a small but incredibly alive and welcoming punk scene, but their goth scene is uh…kind of in the dark.
That being said, I was incredibly excited to recently find the dark clothing and accessory shop, GothPunk, located in Hongdae, Seoul. It’s a small but well-stocked shop full of goth import items from popular brands such as Kreepsville 666, Alchemy Gothic, Vivienne Westwood, Anna Sui, 6% doki doki, and h. Naoto, just to name a few. A goth clothing store is an incredibly unique find in South Korea. You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Korean people who have even heard the term “goth” before, and when I asked about local goth parties or meetups, D’arc, the owner of GothPunk laughed before he uttered the devastating words, “I think goth in Korea is done.”
As D’arc and I talked further, I started to get the impression that goth wasn’t so much “done” in Korea, as much as it’s lying dormant, due to a recession. GothPunk used to share the streets of Hongdae with another goth shop, Beetlejuice, but that storefront has recently closed its doors. Tak explained that he felt like traditional goth was over, but that’s not to say a new incarnation of the subculture may not reemerge. (more…)
Thanks to anime and a love of melodramatic Asian films, I’ve always idealized the idea of walking among cherry blossoms trees, especially in Korea or Japan. In my mind, to be among a sea of cherry blossoms was to no doubt have an experience brimming with drama, tranquility, and romance. Living right by Seokchon Lake, an area that prides itself on its scenic atmosphere and annual cherry blossom display, I finally got to have my overseas cherry blossom experience, and find out for myself if it was grand and profound as I’d dreamed…
Seoul’s cherry blossom display is exceptionally beautiful, but a rather fleeting beauty at that. Due to an abundance of stormy weather and unexpectedly warm temperatures, the blooming of the cherry blossoms came and went in a flash. By the time the Cherry Blossom Festival came around, which is where I snapped these shots, the blooms were already just about on their way out.
I’d been going a mile a minute, exploring everything I could the moment I got here, but this weekend my body told me it’s time to slow down. I’ve been combating a combo of laryngitis, possibly bronchitis for almost two weeks now. If you’re going overseas, don’t ever just take it for granted that you can just pop into any drugstore and easily pick up any medication you got at home. I’ve had to go to a Korean friend, explain my symptoms, have them write it out in Korean, and hand a pharmacist the paper like a child with a permission slip. The chance of me ever needing medication for an embarrassing ailment is reason alone to encourage me to master Korean sooner rather than later.
Illness aside, I’ve done my fair share of shopping, seeking out any and all things cute, and I’ve been trying my hardest to resist post-White Day chocolate sales (In Korea, Valentine’s Day is for the men, White Day is for the women). Subway stations and sidewalk sales are quickly becoming my go-to for good discount purchases, but one unique place my friend and I treated ourselves was at Pinkage in Hongdae–a wig and hair extension boutique with an in-house salon. My friend opted for a full head of hair, while I just went with a small set of fake bangs. Wigs range from about $80-140 and fake bangs start in the $20 range for simple front clip ins, while $40 will get you a set of bangs and fringe to cover the entire top of your hair, for a much more natural, seamlessly blended look.