Archive for October, 2010

Choosuk Festival

October 14, 2010 - 6:43 pm 1 Comment

Last weekend, Grace and her friend Jane came to visit me in New York City. With some of her favorite k-pop stars flying all the way from Korea to attend the Choosuk Festival in Randall Island Park, Grace came with high expectations! As Korea’s equivalent of Thanksgiving, Choosuk is one of the most festive celebrations of the year.

When Grace arrived Friday evening, we went to see Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, a popular off-Broadway production showing at the basement theatre of Sofia’s Restaurant in the heart of Times Square. With only two actors carrying the entire play, I was pleasantly surprised by the lighthearted humor and witty verbal banter, which used antiquated 1950s books to lampoon love. Afterward, we walked around Times Square, absorbing the lights and vibrant night scene. From admiring the marketing strategy of the M&M store to sharing a tasty frozen yogurt, we had lots of fun! We went back home rather late, satisfied with our Friday night exploits.

The next morning, I went running outdoors along the Hudson River, one of my favorite weekend pastimes. When I got back, Grace and Jane finally woke up, and we headed to Book-Off, our favorite used book store. Grace ended up buying lots of Japanese magazines with pictures of her bands. After the bookstore, we went to the East Village for a tasty sushi lunch and yet another frozen yogurt treat (my addiction!). Unfortunately, Randall Island Park is rather far away, inconveniently requiring both a long metro ride and a transfer bus ride. When we finally arrived at the festival, it was already late afternoon.

I attended this festival about six years ago as a freshman in college. Not much has changed since then – still a variety of tents showcasing different Korean businesses and foodstuffs, with plenty of free gifts and samples. We really enjoyed poking around the tents – with Jane here with us, I finally understood what people said. Enjoying the blue skies and crisp weather, we shared spicy Korean rice cakes and tasted so many variants of kimchee, including sautéed raw squid. The concert started at 6 PM, but only the elder generation of trot singers performed today, not the popular stars that Grace wanted to see. We only stayed for one performance, but it remains memorable to me, as the singer crooned a song called “Ice Cream”, where the refrain was half in Spanish and half in Korean! (Mid-song, I turned to Jane and wondered whether I had somehow magically acquired knowledge of Korean.) The singer followed with a rousing version of “La Bamba” as an encore, in impressively well-pronounced Spanish (evidently, as Jane later informed me, he was self-praising his Spanish on stage in Korean.)

We went back home on the bus provided by the festival, which took us to Flushing. Wow, what a change! I remember Flushing from my elementary school days when my parents, in search of a decent Chinese meal, would drive nearly two hours from Connecticut to Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings. Back then, Flushing comprised only one street. Now, Flushing consists of an entire district of Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese shopping and restaurants, making me feel as if I had returned to Asia! Dwarfing Manhattan’s Chinatown by a factor of 4x at least, Flushing felt like a foreign country. We went shoe shopping, where Jane ended up buying some trendy boots for a reasonable price. Taking the metro back home took nearly an hour, but the trip was well worth it – a newly discovered district worth returning to in the future.

The next morning, Grace and Jane joined me on my morning run. While I had to do my Givology and Generation Enterprise calls, they walked up Broadway to go shopping in Tribeca and Soho. Joining them later, we went all the way uptown to attend a Japanese-Korean block festival. We made a mistake in choosing a subway line so we ended up having to cross Central Park, but with the weather so beautiful, I enjoyed making that leisurely stroll.

The street festival spanned at least 10 blocks, with the Japanese-Korean portion taking up only 2 blocks. With so many interesting street vendors hawking clothes, trinkets, and sumptuous looking deserts and snacks, I really enjoyed the ambiance and activity. After talking about wanting to try okonomiyaki for ages, I finally got to taste my first one!

In particular, I found the stage performances highly entertaining. Notably, we saw Yosukoi dancing, a visual and auditory feast of dramatic movements to the tune of traditional music, reminiscent of my favorite anime Naruto. The style of dance is highly energetic with costumes based in tradition. We saw a fisherman’s dance that made me want to challenge the high seas and battle with fish!

Sending Grace home in the evening made me really sad. We didn’t have time to go back to the Choosuk Festival to see her favorite K-pop stars perform, as she had a 9 PM bus to catch. Nevertheless, Grace managed to visit her favorite Japanese bookstore to buy some photobooks and magazines for her friends instead.

I enjoy my new life in New York greatly, so different from my time at Oxford. It’s hard to describe, but I suddenly feel as if I have better control of my time, even though I work quite a lot. As a student, I always had the pressure of studying and preparing for exams in the back of my mind. Now, as working professional, I at least can clearly delineate my time.  Each day, I learn something new and interesting, which brings me much pleasure.