▲ Mt. Halla in spring. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
There are those of us that live in South Korea, and then there are those of us that live on Jeju Island. Wait, you might say, aren’t both of those South Korea? Yes and no.
If you live in Seoul or on mainland Korea, Jeju Island feels — if you will excuse my Aladdin reference — like a whole new world. From lush palm trees, bizarrely shaped rocks, Mt. Halla looming from every direction, and bright orange trees, this is totally unlike mainland South Korea.
Simon and I were lucky enough to get a car tour of Jeju, but once we left Jeju City things got weird. Driving through Jeju is like looking through a kid’s toy camera. You see an orange tree grove, but once you flip the side lever the pictures quickly spin to a new image unrelated to the last.
That’s what Jeju is like for me. You enter a quaint fishing town, squid boats are covered in bubbly light bulbs. You drive down a narrow street lined with cherry blossom trees. You’re by the ocean where huge hotels and adorable pensions are scattered around the coastline. Oh look! There’s a looming mountain with the peak cut off, oh wait, the ground has become flat again.
Are those very small horses... on the highway? To those that live in Jeju, I’m sure this blur of beautiful landscape has become normal, and the wonder might have lost its awe, but to someone living on mainland Korea, Jeju is truly a unique and incredible location.
There is, however, one thing that Jeju Island has completely in common with the rest of South Korea, and that is screaming K-pop fans.
On Sunday, April 24, in Jeju City, fangirls and fanboys gathered at Halla Stadium to see a special free Inkigayo K-pop performance. This event was broadcast live by SBS and was created to spur the country into action and to vote for Jeju as a New7Wonders of Nature.
Not that any of the fans cared about that, they were simply hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite idols. We were lucky enough to get more than a glimpse.
▲ Martina gears up for Eatyourkimchi.com's on the scene YouTube video from the SBS Inkigayo Concert at Halla Stadium in Jeju City, April 24. Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Simon and Martina were recognized by fans who saw their blog and YouTube channel. On numerous occasions they were asked to pose for pictures outside the concert venue. Photo by Todd Thacker
Manned only with the power of “waegukin (foreign)”-ness (and also editor Todd Thacker from The Jeju Weekly) we all managed to squeak through the cracks and get backstage.
▲ Recording a segment inside Halla Stadium about 30 minutes before the concert began. Photo by Todd Thacker
Behind the stadium was a surprisingly minimalistic setup of white plastic tents that held droves of K-pop stars. And we’re not talking about just two or three tents, over 15 flapping tents spanned the parking lot.
A ring of security held back screaming yet hopeful camera laden fans while assistants scurried around toting luggage into tents. The shrill cry of the fangirl announced the arrival of yet another idol-filled van or bus.
▲ Behind Halla Stadium were numerous tents set up for the various K-pop groups. A steady stream of singers and musicians arrived before the concert to prepare for their appearance on live TV. Photo by Todd Thacker
But many of the idols were travel-exhausted, really, and so some of them just shuffled into their tent quickly. Others excitedly greeted friends from other bands. Some acted aloof and hung out only with their bandmates, while others played a small game of soccer with some backup dancers.
We were lucky enough to chat with Kevin, Eli, and AJ from U-Kiss who are all fluent English speakers and incredibly friendly. Kevin mentioned that he really wanted to try Jeju’s special samgyeopsal (grilled pork) but won’t be given the chance since they had to fly out immediately after the show and prepare for another.
▲ Martina was recognized by members of U-Kiss and the group graciously gave her an interview outside their tent before the concert. Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Martina and U-Kiss share a laugh. Photo by Todd Thacker
Regardless if you’re a K-pop fan or not, you can’t deny how hard these people work. Without getting any real breaks during the day, bouncing between TV shows, music concerts, and radio interviews, plus smiling for their fans regardless of how much sleep they didn’t get, these K-pop idols work endlessly.
Nonetheless, each band performed with passion and energy as the screams and cheers from the stadium attested. I can always rely on the power of K-pop blasting out of every cell phone store to firmly remind me that I do indeed live in South Korea, and it seems that despite Jeju’s distinction from the rest of Korea, it is not able to escape that as well.
▲ "Fighting!" Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Big Bang (their tent is in the background) were one of the last acts to arrive. It was a hot day in Jeju City on Sunday. Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Martina got a soundbite from Big Bang leader G-Dragon. Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Big Bang's TOP signs T-shirts for the Vote for Jeju New7Wonders of Nature campaign. Photo by Todd Thacker
▲ Big Bang was the main attraction at the SBS Inkigayo Concert at Halla Stadium in Jeju City, April 24. Photo by Todd Thacker
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