It was finally a warm weekend. My playing plans were quite ambitious. I decided to play at Samcheoung Dong because I had to go to the repair shop again which was in the neighborhood. Before going I stopped off at the Buddhist restaurant nearby. This place served food that monks normally eat in buffet style. That means it was vegan and often lacked a lot of stimulating spices like extra salt and pepper. The setting was very nice and it was right across from the Jogyesa Temple . It was a little expensive at 8 dollars but I usually could be relied on to get my money’s worth. After that I got my horn fixed and started walking back to my spot in Sam Cheong Dong.
I walked along the way through to crowed streets of Insadong , one of the main tourist areas of Seoul, to get there. Insadong was famous for preserving traditional Korean culture and had many small traditional style and super fancy traditional themed shops, restaurants and cafes. For example, there was café where everything was little small. Anyone would feel like a giant in there. In addition there were tiny birds the size of your thumb in there that flitted around. It was a magical place. Other places were in traditional style houses and had traditional foods. Often the places were not that expensive either. In addition there were shops that sold the materials to do traditional Chinese style Korean painting including all sizes of brushes, stones to make the ink etc. In fact the entrance to Insadong has a beautiful statue of a giant brush in the process of painting (without any hands, just the brush).
I was a little disturbed to see 2 separate street musicians playing solo on the way. Disturbed because on one level they were competition, and on the other level they were playing in Insadong, which I always felt was reserved for Korean culture. After all, I wouldn’t play street music in front the St. Peter’s Square. That would be insensitive it seems. Yet there they were, a violinist and a guitarist. I hurried along to my spot not even bothering to stop and listen. That was the problem with being a street musician, there was always the likelihood that things would change and you couldn’t do it anymore.
Luckily my spot was not taken and I unpacked, got my things together and got ready to play. Sancheongdong was in some ways an extension of Insadong, but it wasn’t so touristy. There were no gaudy souvenir shops and not as many food stalls selling junky stuff. It was more devoted to galleries, some major ones, and nice Korean restaurants. Therefore, it was more of a couples place. The place where I played was a long entrance road, that although wasn’t closed to traffic, had few cars and they had to go slowly. It was good for me. However, traditionally I didn’t do that well here, maybe because of the predominance of young couples.
I hd been playing for about ½ hour without much attention when 2 women stopped and listened for awhile. When I finished they started in with the usual questions.
“Is this your job or your hobby?
How long have you been playing?
How long have you been in Korea”
I hear these questions so many times that I no longer hear them, I hear the question beneath the question, or the meta question.
Question…..“Is this your job or your hobby?….meta question……Do I have to give you money?
Question…..“How long have you been playing?……. meta question……Can I do what you are doing someday?
Question…..“How long have you been in Korea”……. meta question……Why don’t you speak Korean
So when the woman asked, …..“How long have you been playing?” since I liked her and didn’t feel like lying, I answered, do you want the truth or the deeper truth.
“Is there a difference, she wanted to know.
“Yes of course,” I answered.
“I’ve been playing 2 years and I believe that if you practiced 30 minutes a day for 2 years, you could do what I am doing”.
“Wow”, she replied. Maybe the power of my authentic speech touched her and she really believed it. So do I.
“well I already can play flute and piano, “she volunteered, and laughed a beautiful musical laugh. “Well in that case, much less”, I predicted. She gave me another very musical “mmmmmmmmmm” that went up and down like a roller coaster. I commented on her “mmmmmm” and was rewarded with another exceedingly musical laugh. “Your laugh is like a little waterfall”, I extemporaneously pronounced. She laughed again, this time harder, “ok maybe a big waterfall”. That produced yet another of even grander scale. “Ok maybe a tsunami. Maybe you don’t even need to play a musical instrument, you can just make musical mmmmm’s and ummmm’s and laughs. Can you make them at will?” That produced a laugh. Was that at will or just natural? “”Just natural,” she said, almost offended. “I laugh a lot. “
About 30 minutes later a bunch of very fashionably dressed young people stopped to listen. 2 of them were right out of a fashion magazine. The third was nicely dressed, but not so extravagantly. As I talked to them, I guessed that they were fashion designers. That’s always a fun way to break the ice, after the song is over. Sometimes I will make wild or insulting guesses. “are you a ninja? Do you work at McDonald’s?” This time I I guessed wrong but I was close enough. “What made you say fashion designers?” “Well 2 of you are dressed in very fashionable clothes, and then there’s you.” This is calculated to bring on a big laugh“Oh designers, but not fashion? What kind of design?” “Interior design and space design. “I have a great idea. All 3 of you can design my space individually, and the best one I will actually choice and use it. They looked at each other with excitement for a moment and I thought I had them, then they all said at the same time, “We’re too busy.” and walked away immediately. At least I tried.
As I was playing I noticed the birds were chirping louder and louder. It almost seemed as if I was competing with them. It was unbelievable. So you know what I always say, “If you can’t beat them , join them.” I turned off my background music and just listened to the birds chirping away. I tried to play with them but it was impossible to find a key or to match any rhythm. It was too fast. I was retarded compared to those birds. If they had the capacity to laugh, they were probably laughing their asses (if they have asses) off at my singing. I settled on a call and response format, I would play for about 4 beats and leave space for 4 beats for the birds. There were a few moments when it almost sounded as if I was on the verge of making something worthwhile. People walking by didn’t notice anything at all. Finally a woman stopped to listen and I told her the secret. “I am playing with the birds.” She nodded and quickly walked away. I guess it wasn’t for everyone.
A man walked by carrying his backpack in front. He looked like he was pregnant, Sometimes you see funny things like that on the street. Sometimes in Seoul women wear their jackets backwards. So they put their arms in first with their stomach pressed against the back of the jacket and the front of jacket open to their back. “hey you look like you’re pregnant,” I said when the song was finished. They all cracked up and then walked away quickly.
A beautiful man and woman walked up and stopped to listen. They looked perfect, smiling, beautiful faces and bodies. Since they were arm in arm I made a wild guess. “Are you a couple?” Yes we are campus couple.” It was term used in Korea to describe 2 popular people who were dating at the same university. I had guessed it anyway. They said they were studying broadcasting which included acting. They both wanted to be actors, and they certainly had the looks for it. “So act for me,” I encouraged them. After all I was playing for them. They were too shy though to do that. “Ok then show me fear “, nothing, “sadness “, nothing , “ joy, “ nothing. Some actors they were….not…”Never break up, “ I ordered them as they walked away. They smiled and nodded in the affirmative.
Another couple walks up and say that I look like Jim Carey. I guess that is a compliment but I take it the wrong as in , you look like every other foreigner I’ve seen, since Jim Carey looks pretty non-descript. I counter with, you look like…….I Myung Bak” , the former president who had the nickname of Bulldozer.” The young man’s smile crumples, “no….no….no” he says as if backing away from a horrible thing. No you are right, not him. You look more like an alien. “ The man looks genuinely hurt. But a friendly handsome alien, like Spoke.” The young man isn’t sure if I am insulting him or not, then he decides that it really doesn’t matter. He gives me a warm alien pointy eared smile and laughs.
Sometimes people yell out great things when I am playing and after. “Good job, great, fantastic, nice, amazing etc. On Saturday someone surprised me by yelling out “Bravo”. How nice it is to get a “bravo”. Its really fulfilling to get a bravo. A little later I got a “brilliant”, which is right up there with “bravo” in the feel good department.
Just before I was getting ready to go a bunch of musicians walked by. There were 7 of them and I recognized a cello, trumpet and a bunch of violins. Turned out they were coming from orchestra rehearsal. I tried to get them to join me but they were too shy. I even offered to teach them to play jazz , which is surprisingly easy to do. Once you know your scales and can sing do re mi….you are ready to play jazz. Most people never try and thus assume it takes some special talent, which I don’t think it does. If you can sing it, you can play it I believe. I played a song from their cell phone, and they walked away thinking that they could never do what I do, but I think they are wrong. So another day of street music in Seoul wrapped up. 85