Express Yourself!

2012-08-22

More than a few Koreans have described their country as the Italy of Asia. If you ask me, such comparisons are silly, but as the theory goes, both Italy and Korea are peninsular nations with expressive people who love food and can boast a long history. Superficial similarities to be sure, but it’s true that centuries of strict self-restraint imposed by Confucianism failed to remove the robust passion seemingly inherent in Koreans’ DNA. To celebrate this cultural color, on this week’s Seoul Scene we’ll review four of the city’s best ways to express yourself!

Seoul Fringe Festival
We start off on the funky streets and stages around Hongik University. Every August, they host Asia’s largest “fringe festival.” The experimental arts showcase has its roots in Scotland where it began as an alternative to so-called “high art.” This year, Seoul’s three-week fete began on August 15th and runs through September 9th. The event features over 100 non-juried music, dance and drama performances. A staple of summertime Seoul, there’s no better neighborhood for staged and impromptu artistic expression than Hongdae!

N Seoul Tower
For our third destination, N Seoul Tower was recently voted Seoul’s number one hallyu destination. But the city’s central beacon is also a popular spot to express one’s love. Thousands of colorful padlocks decorate the fence that’s located at the tower’s base. These endearing and enduring expressions of puppy love often bear the couple’s names and pledges of forever. While the symbolism is obvious and earnest, not everyone is taking it seriously. With a sentiment akin to someone just after a bitter break-up, a sign on the fence instructs visitors to keep their key… just in case.

Public Art
Next up, in 2010, UNESCO named Seoul a “Creative City of Design.” The 10,000+ pieces of public art that have been funded since 1995 through a public art law helped earn Seoul the distinction. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of Seoul’s most prominent pieces of public art are also its most controversial, e.g. Coosje van Bruggen’s “Spring” in Cheonggye Plaza or Frank Stella’s “Amabel” outside Posco’s Gangnam office. Whatever your reaction, some argue that inspiring a dialogue about art outside the museum or gallery is the point.

Embassy of Japan
And finally, last December, a few surviving halmeoni and 3,000 supporters reached a remarkable milestone. Despite advanced age and frail health, these elderly, former so-called “comfort women” held their 1,000th weekly protest against their sexual enslavement by the Japanese military during World War II. Of an estimated 200,000 girls and women - the bulk of whom were Korean - just 63 of those who registered with the South Korean government are still living, with most in their 80s and 90s. Until they receive an official apology and reparations, the halmeoni pledge to continue their courageous Wednesday morning protests.

There you have it, four ways to express yourself – or appreciate the expressions of others – here in Seoul.


GETTING THERE
The Seoul Fringe Festival can be reached via Hongik University Station on Lines 2 & AREX, (exit #9).
N Seoul Tower can be reached via Myeongdong Station on Line 4, Exit 2 (Take the Namsan Circle Route Bus), (exit #2).
The Japanese Embassy can be reached via Anguk Station on Line 3, (exit #6).

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