Korea: Day Six Saturday 17 April

Our tour has been well named: Connections. We’ve seen the evidence with our own eyes today.

Kotaro and Hazuki hosted a World Vision chorister when their choir visited Canberra last August and this morning their host mother came to speak with them before we got on the bus to leave for Ansan. She had found a good seat for last night’s concert, took some excellent photos, then spent her night editing, printing and framing. She had several photos to present to the singers as well as other gifts. Hazuki and Kotara were thrilled to be remembered and delighted with the presents.

Then there were the tears at departure from Bundang. Michelle’s host mother had them running down her face and couldn’t stop hugging Michelle. “I don’t want them to go,” wailed Natalie’s little host brother. Apparently all the families were sad to see WVYC leave and Dae Young reported that the woman all agreed that two nights and three days was too short for homestays. This is the first time that Bundang have hosted a visiting group and the people at the church have said that, based on their experience with WVYC, they would like to do more. Nice to hear!

The ‘connections’ kept cropping up in all the reports from the choristers about their activities of the previous evening. While we drove the one hour to Ansan, the choristers used the karoke microphone in the bus to tell about their experiences of the night before. It seems that all families pressed masses of food on the singers and encouraged them to try all sorts of new dishes. “I ate snails!” crowed Ellen. Food was a major topic of discussion. They were all keen to describe dishes they’d tried. Anneke had an interesting salad with lettuce, fruit and a vanilla yoghurt dressing. “I can do that at home!” she said and Louise and I gave each other a big grin of satisfaction.

It was also Anneke who told how, when met by her Korean mother at the door, was told “Long day. You tired!” Her host mother then coddled her for the evening and put her to bed early. Lovely!

Dae Young reported that the mothers had had conversations together to see what everyone had planned for their evening of hosting. He said that they were all very excited at the prospect of welcoming our singers into their homes and they desperately wanted to do what was best for the WVYC singers. Some of them arranged to meet in a restaurant and others decided to stay at home. Several went to a restaurant named ‘Outback’. Michelle said that if you could think of all the definitive Australian icons, roll them into one and multiple by ten, you’d have some idea of what it was like!

The connection theme is evident in other ways as well. There is the obvious mutual respect and admiration between our staff and that of the World Vision Korea Children’s Choir staff. For some of us, it goes beyond ‘connection’ to real bonding. There was an instant connection between Hee Churl, Hyon Chul and I when they arrived in Canberra last year. In part I feel this is due to Mi Kyung and her ability to translate not just the content of the words, but the feelings behind them. My wacky sense of humour and gentle teasing were understood, appreciated and returned in good measure last year when the WVKCC visited us, and it applies here in Korea as well. We are comfortable with each other as individuals and also as a group. Mi Kyung listens carefully and is not afraid to jump in to request more information or to elaborate on the reply. She is careful to include everyone in the conversation. If two people say something to each other, she translates that so that the Koreans know everything that is said and she explains if necessary so that there is absolutely no confusion whatsoever. She has the ability to put across the message and the underlying inflections of mood. So we now have an extremely strong bond with Dae Young and of course there is this lovely bond with Mi Kyung herself. The connection between her and the choristers is pleasing to observe. They are always asking questions of her. They take photos and ask her to translate what is written. For example, Abigail and her group came back from the excursion on Nami Island with some photographs of signage for Mi Kyung to translate. Mi Kyung is seeing her own country through different eyes - the eyes of the choristers and staff, and she is enjoying that experience immensely.

Our connection with Dae Young is very strong. We all adore him. He is unfailingly cheerful, helpful, considerate, and eager to do everything in his power to make our stay a success. He has a wonderful sense of humour and we laugh a lot. We can’t praise him enough. He is married and has a young son of 28 months and a daughter due on July 26. He lives in Ansan so he’s been travelling over an hour every day to be with us to smooth our path. When we try to thank him he just says “It’s my job.” How he does that job is what is so impressive.

The connections between the choristers themselves grow stronger every day. We’ve had no incidents of a negative sort as far as I know. No one fights about where to sit on the bus. No one complains about the changes in plans or lack of sleep. The help and care they give each other is lovely to see and their excitement in sharing their personal experiences with each other is a delight.

When we arrived at the Dream Church in Ansan, the director of the host choir, Young-il Kwon, was there to meet us with his wife and daughter. They are hosting Shannon and Belinda during our stay. Because it’s Saturday, his choral members are all at school. Every fortnight school children here have an extra day of tuition and it happened to fall on our arrival day. His singers would not be available until 2:00pm. To keep us occupied in the meantime (we had arrived at 11:00am) we were to be given lunch in the Church restaurant (pizza!) and they had some gifts for us. The gifts turned out to be pencil cases filled with sweets and the staff were given games of Yute. It is a board game played with four round sticks that have one flat side. Two teams play against each other and the first to get their four counters around the course wins the game. As it happens, Mr CC knew about the game because he’d been teaching about Korea and had made several sets himself. So instantly he was down on the floor and the game was on!

When we’d had a drink and had sung happy birthday to Shannon, who turns nineteen today, we were shown the performing space. This church has five or six services every Sunday, most of them packed. That’s not unusual I suppose, but what is unusual here is that the church seats two thousand and the electronic equipment needed to enable everyone on the two levels to see and hear clearly is extraordinary. There are unobtrusive microphones that hang from the ceiling, cameras all over the place, a large boom with a camera that can come right in close…goodness me! The concert in Bundang was recorded as this one will be and we’ll be able to show you when we get home, but to experience it first hand is gob-smacking!

While we were performing in Bundang, the choristers were looking over the top of my head, rather than at me, and I was working hard to make them focus. It turned out that there was a big screen behind me, facing the stage, on which they could see themselves perform and it was very off-putting to see one’s own self doing the movements…but in the opposite direction! Here at the Dream Church is will be even more off-putting because the camera on the boom apparently swings in close on occasion. We must have a chat about that before the performance!

Young-il asked if it was possible for us to change our program to have more humourous material. The youth groups associated with the church will be attending the concert and he wanted a program that was more aimed at them. So for the second bracket we will be doing most of our choreographed numbers. I’m not sure that the humour will be understood, but we’ll see how we go!

As a result, it was decided that we’d use the hour after lunch to have a rehearsal. There are several rehearsal rooms in this building and we were given a large one with comfortable, tiered seating. This is Young-il’s major rehearsal room. He conducts the Masan City Chorale as well as Sangroksu Choir and he lectures in music at the university. One of his students is a charming young woman who sat beside me at lunch. She began studying piano but her hands were too small, so she had to change direction. She would love to conduct symphony orchestras eventually but is currently studying conducting and composing with Young-il.

We sang through “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Popular” and tidied the choreography. Then We worked on “Lead Me, Lord”. This song was thrown at the choristers at the last minute when we were asked to remove the “Ave Marias” from our repertoire because they were not acceptable in the Presbyterian Church. The singers are developing confidence in the piece but need every opportunity to sing it, so I asked Young-if if he’d conduct it, and then his student conductor was asked to do so as well. The WVYC choristers followed both conductors with full attention and the difference in sound was remarkable! There was another sort of “connection” – one obvious to the ear!

The singers and their host families were paired up and moved off to their various exciting adventures. The staff were taken by Dae Young to the university guest house (a large hotel) just a few blocks away. Badly in need of rest, we all went straight to bed. Internet is not available to me here so I was able to put my head down with a clear conscience!

Dae Young came back to collect the staff at 5:00pm. He took us to a local shopping mall where we had a wander for an hour. Mi Kyung found the best bargain, but Louise did the most shopping. She came back with presents for everyone: crackers for Mr CC who has been feeding them to the choristers, an assortment of chips for Kylie to try and the thin, pretzel-type sticks dipped in chocolate which I love.

The department stores are jam-packed with goods, and with shoppers! The parking in the underground car park and on the street outside had to be seen to be believed! Someone had parked their car in the street with the hazard lights on and the keys in the ignition while they’d rushed into the shops! How anyone could get their car out of the parking lot I have no idea. I thought Dae Young would be stuck there for the rest of his life it was so bad.

We all agreed that the clothes were very nice but also very expensive. Blouses were 139,000 won and up, suits were 389,000+. Earrings were good quality and beautiful, but, sorry, Deborah (CC), at 300,000+ out of your husband’s price range. I had promised Brett a tie for his birthday present, but we’re looking for one that is definitively Korean and we have yet to find it. Ties here are very swish and come in all sorts of colours and patterns - including with diamante decorations (!), but ones with Korean patterns are only to be found in Insadong it seems.

Young-il hosted the staff dinner in absentia. Dae Young was the actual host and since we all love him to death we were very happy to be in his company. We said he should go home to his wife and son, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He took us to a typical suburban Korean restaurant with low tables where you sit on mats on the floor. I did well, I thought. I lasted about 20 minutes, but seeing my discomfort, Dae Young asked for a stack of the mats and then I was better able to enjoy the meal. We had a Korean barbeque. Gas burners in the centre of the table are used to cook the meat (we had pork), and small individual side dishes are served to accompany it. This is one of my favourite Korean dishes. You make a small ‘sandwich’ beginning with either a lettuce, mustard or sesame leaf or a large pink radish slice. On this you place a small piece of meat and then whatever else you’d like to add….bean paste, garlic, thinly sliced vegetables, tofu – there is a great variety from which to choose. The trick is to make the ‘sandwich’ so small that you can pop it into your mouth in one bite. Every ‘sandwich’ can be different. Delicious!

The cherry blossoms are blooming in Ansan and I’ve been raving about them, yelling “Look! Look!” and pointing them out every time there is a lovely view of some trees. Louise and the choristers are getting fed up with me I think, but I don’t want them to miss anything. Last night Dae Young showed us how beautiful they look in the dark. The pale pink blooms on the dark trunks take on a special magic with the street lights shining on them at night time.

And so home to bed after a sixth wonderful, happy day in this country. Everyone is well and all send their love, Alpha et al

Day Six photos can be found at

http://gallery.me.com/alphagregory/100308