Day Eight! At this time I can’t believe we’ve been in Korea for more than a week! And, unfortunately, the time is just flying by for us as we hit major milestones in our trip and begin the final count down for Alix’s departure. This episode we answer last week’s cliffhanger….what happened to SaraG’s phone? We have our first real Kpop experience with a music show taping, and, most importantly, get our hands on some legendary toast-uh.
I type this as I sit in the Denver Airport waiting for my flight to LA for Monsta X. It seems kind of fitting considering that this day in Korea was a pretty big day for us…the MNET Countdown taping! As all of Kpop seemed to be on vacation for the two weeks while we were there, with only a giant Seventeen fan meet (pass), a Planetarium concert (unfortunately, we were down in Busan) or a Sewoon concert (tried to get SaraG tickets to no avail), there wasn’t a whole lot of live K-entertainment to choose from. Before? After? Sure. Those two weeks? Kpop takes a holiday.
This is not to say that MNET Countdown was our second choice as it wasn’t. A music show was an absolutely-positively must-do for every one of our Korea trip to-do lists. Thanks to the research by our librarian-researcher and all-around kpop fan Leila, we learned that Countdown was going to be the easiest way to achieve this. Being the foreigners that we were, there were a few hoops for us to jump through (again, by us, I totally mean Leila as she is the hero of this story), as Countdown actually has a foreigner program. Be prepared, if you’re going to buy tickets you actually have to provide all of your flight information, I’m guessing to prove you’re actually going to leave the country afterward. There was one concert that was briefly considered (I think it was for someone from SM) where you also had to provide your passport number. Ummm…PASS, solid pass on that, my friend. There was never going to be a day where we’d hand over such sensitive information to whoever is on the other end of that computer.
So MNET it is.
The thing about the MNET show is that you don’t actually know who is going to be performing when you purchase the ticket. You’re more purchasing for the experience than a for-sure performance by a particular band or singer. Periodically through our time there we’d refresh our screens, search Twitter, waiting for the information to happen. We’d have long-longing conversations about who just might be performing. Strategizing, figuring out who had comebacks, who was still promoting, our wish lists. Unfortunately for me? It didn’t seem realistic that anyone I really follow was going to be there. Bummer, but we soldier on.
That being said, I’ve realized I’ve jumped ahead of myself. Let’s pick up where we left off, the forlorn travelers cry…
“Where’s my phone?”
Even in my everyday life, that thought can send me into a panic. What did I do with my phone? Do I have my phone? What if I lose my phone? We searched everything, the apartment, her clothes, her bags. No luck. So we looked again. And then again. Then Alix and I went out, our own phone flashlights on, checking the streets where the taxi dropped us off, checking to see if we (and by we I mean toasty SaraG) dropped it, peering into grates for good measure.
Here’s where I’m going to pop in for a second to say: if anyone asks about safety in Korea? There was never a moment I felt unsafe there, even when I was wandering around on my own. On the subway sometimes I realized my bag had shifted to my back or side and I cautiously shifted to ‘protect mode’ in the front, but it was more a habit than thinking someone would actually steal from me.
The phone incident was a perfect example of this. I researched what to do when you lost your phone in Korea, and a blog post took me to an English speaking police website where there was a real-time list of phones that had been lost per day. And when I say real-time, I could see dozens of phones being listed from that very night from all over Korea. Some of them listed phones found, phones and cards found, phones and cash found, sortable by type.
1) apparently lost phones are a real thing
2) South Korea is READY for it.
Unfortunately, though, no luck.
We broke the news to SaraG who was, as expected, pretty bummed about it. (Though I’m not certain at that point she really believed us.)
We packed it in for the night, wondering what tomorrow would bring, as really, our only plans, had been for MNET.
The next morning, SaraG was indisposed and wanted to save her energy for MNET so Alix, Leila and I decided to wander the streets looking for something interesting to do. According to my handy tourist maps, I could see that there was a book alley nearby, so our first stop was there. The alley was in a sort of park and was made up of tiny individual train car shaped and sized boxes. We wandered through, looking at art and books. One container was clearly a children’s bookstore, so Leila, who decided she wanted a copy of Harry Potter in Korean, asked the lady at the counter… who gestured to one of the books and shook her head, telling us something in Korean. What we found out later was that each one of these trailers were small, independent publishing companies. Pretty cool.
Wandering on, we hit the back streets of Hongdae, off the main pathway, checking out shops and coffee places that were mostly not open yet. We did find one beauty store that we hadn’t seen before and popped in to see what they had we hadn’t checked out previously. I pinged my friend the makeup guru back in New York and asked her if she’d heard of the shop before. Thanks to the time difference, she was up and excited. She’d heard of the store before but said they hadn’t really made their way to the states. I asked her if she wanted anything and Thea googled before sending me some options. (We’d done this a couple of other times in different stores, it added a layer of fun to the shopping, checking with the clerks to see if they could help me find the exact shade she was looking for, then swatching it on myself, deciding on whether I liked it or whether I thought she would like it. I’ve been on enough makeup excursions with Thea to know what I think she’d enjoy.
From there we wandered some more popping into a cake shop, as on Alix’s wish list was to purchase a cake for White Day. The display was darling, and everything in the store was 10000 won.
A cake bargain!
We wandered around Ehwa Women’s College, where we saw people handing out roses to girls as they walked by the entrance. We found a game room with all these claw machines and, like the perfect Kdrama heroes we were, attempted to win ourselves a prize. Unfortunately, our skills are quite lacking. We were officially the hapless heroes. In a gift shop, we saw gifts for the busy student in your life, a book that was actually a pillow.
I was tempted to buy one just for the heck of it but managed to refrain.
Keeping an eye on the time, we decided to wander back, by way of the Naver map, which told us where the nearest Issac Toast was. Before we’d arrived, we’d’ not only heard of Korean toast but also of the brand Issac Toast and were determined to try. Funnily enough, there was one right across the street from the college, so we were able to eat our toast (which are actually sandwiches) and watch the goings-on at the college next door. Korean toast? Sweet AF. Turns out? What they fail to tell you in the posted description is that the other ingredient? A simple syrup applied liberally to the bread. Hmm…
Periodically we passed places like this which proclaimed it to once be a Running Man filming spot.
It was time to go back, collect SaraG and head back to Gangnam for some MNET Countdown!
We made our way to the large buildings where the shows are filmed. As foreigners, we actually needed to check in a ways before we actually got in line. Our lines were inside the building while we saw lines and lines of perfectly organized fans (turns out, organized by fandoms) waiting outside. We checked in, got wristbanded, and collected our welcome pouches which had a weird collection of merch, stickers, pens, wristbands, bookmarks. Oh! And a Wanna One Fan Fan!
GaH! I almost forgot. I promised you a story!
We remember our teams love of bathroom access, right? Well, as soon as we got to the building, we popped in line for the bathroom. The toilet itself was one of those bidets with all the buttons and lights. We’re talking a LOT of buttons. I waited in line, did my business, and when I went to flush? A little tube came out and started spraying water at me! I jumped aside and panicked, started just pressing all of the buttons trying to get it to stop. Which, of course, didn’t work. I faced a conundrum. Do I just leave? Pretend I don’t know what happened and either go find someone or just….wander off? That wouldn’t work though as, since there was a long line of ladies behind me, someone would be bound to come in right after and know my secret shame.
Please keep in mind– all this is happening with the toilet spitting a steady stream of toilet water at me.
I decided to stay and fight it out with the machine until finally finding a big button on the wall itself that seemed to shut the whole thing down. WHEW. Of course, the floor was soaked at this time, but at least the person behind me wasn’t going to necessarily point the wet finger at me.
As we still had an hour before we needed to get into line, we decided to go get some coffee (you know, because liquids was a good plan, not knowing how long we were going to be in the venue once it all started), and to have a sit until the experience began.
There was a quick stop off at what appeared to be an MBC print shop, where they showed random objects that you could put logos on, and I desperately wanted the Signal T-shirt and knew Cherry Cordial would love an Answer Me 1988…anything, so I asked, but the guy was like, “yeah, we can’t do those anymore.” BURN.
After our sit at the local Starbucks for coffee, teas, a fast rooting through our gift bags (Leila managed to score two of them…let me tell you…Korea LOVED Leila.)
we headed back, passing by the lines of fans to go back to the foreigner section inside. We waited in our own line, separated by nationality. When it was time for us to move, the multi-lingual organizers had one person from each line compete in a game of Kai Bai Bo to see the order for which we would be loaded in. We, of course, were last. Come on, US school systems! Make Kai Bai Bo training a thing!
They lead us off by nationality, not into the room but up long flights of stairs, where we sat in a row, waiting for… I’m not certain actually why they had us get there so early if they weren’t ready to load in, but MNET Countdown is a well-oiled machine so who are we to question?
Waiting obediently on the stairs, lined up like ducklings, we sat. We passed the time away with some chatting, some fanfic reading, some scrolling through Reddit (Leila, I learned, was a rabid Reddit user.) watched the random rookie band pass by. “Who is that?” “Why’s everyone screaming?”
But mainly? We watched the giant screens on the built into the building next to us, showing video of what was on everyone’s minds and lips for our entire stay. Seungri and the Burning Sun/Chat Room Scandal. Someone asked us what it was like to be there while the whole thing started to unfurl itself. I imagine we were pretty much doing everything that everyone was doing here, obsessively refreshing Soompi, playing a game of Russian Rullet with the headlines.
What terrible thing was going to be revealed next? Which of our favorite stars were going to break our collective hearts with each new announcement? If one of us was left alone, we were scrolling the articles, reading the ever-changing tones of the comments. We watched bus stops with news feeds, these giant buildings with TVs, all in Korean showing the same footage of Seungri and Jung Joon Young going to the police station for questioning, knowing what was happening, how big it was, and yet still being separate from it. It was a weird, sad experience.
We had our own encounter with hidden camera footage later on in our trip, but that’s a story for the next post.
Finally, it was our turn to load into the theater, trailing behind each of the other, better, Kai Bai Bo playing nations. Turns out this place was SMALLL. It seems so big on TV! Also, a surprise? Despite being last in line? We were going to be close. Really close. Unfortunately, since this is a TV show, I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the filming, not without the threat of being kicked out, so we’re pictureless.
Here’s our lineup for the night (in no particular order as I can’t remember it)
Wooseok x Kuanlin
Tomorrow X Together
Honestly, a lot of them I don’t know, but it’s more about the experience, I guess. The one I was more excited for was the return of Park Bom. We all loved her in 2NE1, and pretty sure all of us thought she got a raw deal with her ‘scandal’ and hoped she’d be able to make a comeback. To actually be there for it? Pretty cool.
When we walked in, Jus2, 2 of the members of Got7 were on the stage doing their soundcheck while wearing large fabric bibs which said their names. Apparently, this is pretty standard as I’ve seen pictures of other Kpop groups wearing them at various times. They waved and hurried off stage before the next group came on. Turns out? I had no idea that was the start of the show as they just film it in music segments. Group after group performed, sometimes behind us on a dias in the crowd the hosts would pop up and do their banter. Surprisingly, not all of the performances were of whole songs. You’d be getting into the tune and then it would cut off, the group would wave and would then be hurried off the stage. These performances were prefilmed. I remember it happening to Wooseok X Kuanlin, which was the most disappointing one as I really liked the song. Plus seeing Wooseok from Pentagon was a real treat.
A few things stood out to me.
- Park Bom? I don’t want to say she seemed out of it, but there was definitely something going on there. During her shortened segment, she didn’t always seem to remember where she needed to be, her backup dancers leading her to her place. It was a little unsettling. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of she was tired and had already performed her song for the day.
- One of the surprisingly popular ones was Hong Jinyoung, who is a trot singer with idol asperations. The crowd loved her, and she was cute as a bug!
- From watching the released video of the songs, you could tell that they really adjust the sound of the crowd, lowering it considerably. Don’t let it fool you, we were all cheering our hearts out!
- Fan chants are inescapable.
- Japanese fans are…woah. When MAMAMOO came out, it was INTENSE. The volume instantly upped about 50 notches. The crowds shoved forward, trying to usurp our place, turning the mild-mannered concert crowd into mosh pit proportions. In order to stick together and protect our area, we all linked arms and fought what seemed to be a Kpop version of Red Rover. We held our ground.
- My favorite group of the night was someone I’d never heard of before, HBY. Unfortunately, you can’t buy their stuff in CD form yet, they are just digital releases.
We had to fight again when TXT performed, and this time, the crowd got vicious. They attempted to shove us forward and when that didn’t work, tried yanking us apart. It actually got to be pretty disturbing, and when they almost pulled Alix the floor, I got ANGRY, shouting now and just started shoving back. With my feet. I’m not going to say I was straight out kicking people as who knows who is going to read this, but you mess with my friends? You mess with me.
In the end it was TXT who won the night, which, not going to lie, irritated me. They are a pretty good group, Crown is a fun song, I just think that there were better performances out there. Here I have to agree with the Japanese fans, MAMAMOO was pretty incredible. What I saw of Wooseok x Kuanlin was great and made me want to see more. Even Jus2 did a solid job. Anyway, the crowd went wild, and the shoving match began again, people rushing for the stage. It was then our team decided to fall back, done for the night.
Except for me.
No one’s going to take my spot and push me out of the way. I fucking stood there the whole song, arms crossed, just daring people to try it. Hopefully, the boys couldn’t see the crowd; otherwise, it’s entirely possible I may have scarred them for life.
Once the song was over, I met up with everyone outside, we headed back across the river and celebrated our victory with BBQ. Because winners of battle deserve meat…and copius amounts of 10000 won White Day cake.
Am I glad I went? Yes, it was something to experience. Would I go again? Eh. Probably not. If I went to Korea again and everyone was all…. here’s a ticket for free and a vow that my favorite group is playing? Sure? Hellz yeah. Couldn’t keep me away. Otherwise? I’d try another show. Maybe Show Me The Money? Or an actual concert if I were lucky enough to to to Korea when Kpop wasn’t on holiday.
Anyway. This is our last full Alix day and we enjoyed it. Tomorrow? We ask the age-old question. Why did the tourist cross the palace?
To get to the other side.
Here are the performances we saw. If you look closely you can see our heads! Look for SaraG’s bright pink one and we’re the tall curly-haired ones near her.
Park Bom – Spring
MAMAMOO – gogobebe
Tomorrow X Together – Crown
MAMAMOO – Waggy
(G)I-DLE – Senorita
LOONA – Butterfly
100% – Still Loving You
DreamNote – Hakuna matata
Hong Jinyoung – Love Tonight
Jus2 – Focus On Me
GWSN – Pinky Star (Run)
Wooseok X Kuanlin – I’m A Star
HBY – BBANG
Ravi – Tuxedo