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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TGBKA: A Cultural Week

On my 32nd birthday, Sweet Baboo had some business to tend to in our Nation's Capital. His parents offered to watch our darling children for the week so I could join him, and I was able to enjoy a (relatively) cheap trip to DC with little stress. Prior to and during that trip, protestors from the international movement Occupy Wall Street had taken up residence in the areas I had planned to explore while Sweet Baboo was at work; as a result, I was given strict orders to "avoid infiltrating, questioning, occupying, photographing, or otherwise acknowledging the existence of" those involved with the movement. Basically, all fun was taken away from me.

On one particular night, Sweet Baboo knew that he would be working exceptionally later than normal, and I told him that I had plans to "get lost via the subway, explore more, and eventually find my way back to the hotel". I'm an adventurous girl, and I'm a resourceful girl. Sweet Baboo knows that I'll honor his requests, and he generally has very few. On this particular night he had two: continue to leave the Occupy protestors alone (that struggle was real!) and be back on the subway (and know where I was supposed to be going) before the sun kissed the horizon. I was only successful at one of those directives; I got sidetracked at the Capitol Building.

I was walking toward the nearest subway entrance, I swear! But suddenly, I heard the most heavenly music coming from a few blocks away. My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to beg for forgiveness as I followed the lovely melodies. By the time I found the source of the songs, I realized that I was watching Army Soldiers in dress uniform playing music for a crowd on the lawn of the Capitol Building. I stood on the outside of the fence staring, freezing, wishing I could find a way to be one of the insiders who got to sit on the lawn and listen. There was no real difference between my geographical location and theirs other than the fact that I had to view the scene with a big gate in the way. I looked around and saw a police officer who told me how to get access to the lawn: clear security. No special invitation needed!

It. Was. Magnificent! I was moved to tears, I was dancing in my seat, I was doing more than listening to the music... I was experiencing it! And as I begged for forgiveness from Sweet Baboo for disrespecting his simple wishes that evening, I also begged one more thing from him: every year for my birthday, I wanted to seek out the closest Army Band holiday concert and attend it. So we have. And every year around my birthday I am moved to tears, and I dance in my seat, and I laugh heartily because the emotions I experience when listening to Christmas music coming from their instruments cannot be contained.

This year, for my 35th birthday, we were treated to an exceptionally special treat: the 8th Army Band played alongside the ROKA Band (Republic of Korea's Army Band). They played traditional American Christmas music, and they played traditional Korean dance music. They had some music that was all instrumental, and other songs that had the most amazing vocals to accompany the instruments. There was one point where I had tears streaming down my face, but I was dancing in my seat and laughing out loud. My sweet children didn't know what to do... but Sweet Baboo beamed as he realized that he had absolutely made my birthday a special one by ensuring we attend this amazing event.
This concert was free for those who attended, and we got some amazing seats!
Every year that I get to spend with this amazing man is a great year for me!

My sweet Elder, who loved every minute of the concert as well!

I was pretty bashful about photographing and videoing the performance until I saw the CSM behind me using her iPad to take videos. Then it was game-on!
After the 8th Army Band and the ROKA Band finished their set, we were treated to a performance by the Uijeongbu City Children's Choir. They were fantastic!

They performed very old timey American songs like "Sugartime". The choreography was just as cute as their costumes (which you can't really appreciate in this photo).
Finally we got to see a performance by Son Sonnet, a Korean pop star. She sang a cover of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing", and was on point in her performance. She sang other songs as well, and I was again moved to tears. I have some of her songs in my wish list on iTunes.

As an encore, Son Sonnet came back on stage with the 8th Army Band and the ROKA Band and together they performed "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen. Sweet Baboo leaned over to me at one point and said, "You know a song has become the anthem to an entire generation when a Korean pop star is capable of getting Soldiers from two armies to sing along with her. Especially when that song comes from a Disney movie!" It was true, too. She stopped singing into the mic at one point, looked out to the audience, and every Soldier that I could see was singing along! Some were even shouting along at the top of their lungs. It was amazing!
Its rare to get the four of us in the same photo. This was the perfect end to a wonderful birthday... or so I thought!

There are many cultural differences between the US Army and the ROK Army. But they both have women in their ranks, and this particular Soldier was a badass. I had to ask her for a selfie with me. She was more than happy to oblige!

I didn't get a selfie with The Wee in the concert hall, so we opted to get one with Frosty.
I didn't think the week could get any better. But then we woke up the next day to prove me wrong. After spending a morning doing some school work, we put the books away and headed to Shinsegae Department Store to participate in Uijeongbu's Culture and Book Festival. We had to rsvp to this event so we could have seats, and had no idea of what to expect. It was humbling, encouraging, and motivating at the same time!

When we arrived, we were handed headsets because the entire festival was to be in Korean. Not all of the festival was going to be translated for us, but the two speakers would have translators so we could know what was being said. This made me think of all of the times I have heard people in America say "You're in America, speak English!" I was grateful that the Koreans haven't taken that stance with us, but have gone out of their way to accommodate us and ensure we are able to enjoy the festivities as well.

The festival was basically performances on a stage as the audience sat in theater-style seats. The first act was musical, and the girls and I enjoyed listening to more live music. None of us recognized the tunes, but that didn't stop us from wanting to dance in the aisles. Then, the band leader stood up and asked (in Korean) if any children wanted to come on stage to try out the instruments. A wonderful woman sitting next to me (who happens to work on post) translated the man's question to us and the girls excitedly volunteered. They were the first on stage, but started a long line of excited kids who wanted to "blow that horn".
The stage wasn't huge, but the performances on it were fantastic!
The girls were excited to try out the instruments!

Usually The Wee is very bashful with strangers, but she overcame her nerves and tried to understand the musician!

Of course, he was giving instructions in Korean so there was a language barrier...

But in the end they figured things out!

The Elder took to the trombone like a fish to water. 

She loved trying it out, but didn't ask if she could do it more... at home... in our apartment complex... (thank you, Lord!)
After the musical part of the festival was over, a guest speaker took to the stage to talk about his expertise: translating American movies to Korean. He is the only person in South Korea who performs this job, and he takes it quite seriously. His movies include Shrek and Saving Private Ryan (along with literally thousands of others). He talked about how he chooses which movies to translate, and the difficulties he sometimes has with translating English idioms into Korean sayings that make sense, but are equally enticing. I found his talk fascinating; the girls were (understandably) bored. But they endured!
The Book/Movie talk portion was fantastic!
 During the opening lines of his speech, the speaker took a few minutes to honor the American Armed Forces in Korea. He said that without American Soldiers, South Korea would not enjoy the freedoms they do today. Then he turned to the girls and me and asked the audience to thank us for a moment. They stopped what they were doing, put their things in their laps, and applauded us loudly and with excitement. The translation was lagging behind real-time events, so the girls and I didn't know what was happening at first. But then I heard what the speaker said (via the translation) and was humbled. He specifically said, "We have only one American family at this festival today, and I can see that they are happy to be here. Won't you take a moment to honor them as they support an American Soldier who works to keep us free?" I am still not sure I deserve the praise we received from the audience that day.
Shortly after I took this photo, he gave an announcement for everybody to stop photographing/videoing his speech (including the media). It has something to do with his contracts, etc. etc. This is all I have of his portion.
After the guest speaker finished, the Mayor of Uijeongbu sat in the seats right in front of us. He turned around and shook the girls' and my hands and welcomed us to Korea. He personally thanked us for supporting an American Soldier, and for being at the Culture Festival. Then he took the stage. In his opening remarks, he pointed us out (he came late to the festival, and I'm not sure he realized we were already pointed out) to the rest of the audience and asked that they offer us their "most sincere thanks" for being honored guests in Uijeongbu. The audience was more than happy to oblige once again, and the girls and I were humbled once again.

The mayor spoke of the importance of reading. He discussed how other cultures regarded reading so highly that they would wake at 1:00 am to get a head start on their reading. He said that he would not have been able to pursue his higher education (he has a Ph.D) had he not started his love of reading as a child. Then he offered encouragement to those who were "still looking for their love of reading": keep looking. You will one day find that love, and will not regret the time you spend reading. Then he sat in front of us again and shook our hands once more.

Finally, a dance group took to the stage to offer us some final entertainment. This was The Elder's favorite part, and at one point she literally danced in the aisles. It was glorious! I'll let the photos speak for themselves here:

At the end of the festival, the girls and I were asked if we wanted a photo on the stage. I loved the idea!
We had a great time!
The media came to interview us, and ask how we liked the event. The girls were a little shy, but did excitedly say that they would love to come to another event if they planned it again. I was asked if we minded being the only American family in the audience and answered honestly: absolutely not! I thanked the organizers for taking the time to hire translators so we could understand the guest speaker and the Mayor, and thanked the Shinsegae General Manager for hosting the event. We left, but not without a couple more photos:
That is a Christmas tree made out of books!

We took the train back to our local station and started to walk back to the apartment. We were happy, we were humbled, and we were honored to have received such a warm and genuine welcome from the city of Uijeongbu. My goodness, our adventures absolutely ROK!
Heading back home, the girls love this sidewalk because they can follow the zig zags. 

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