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Was That “Whole Lotta Love,” or “Lovemaking in Mokpo”?

October 15, 2011

Last night in Mokpo, South Korea, I was hit by the sounds of music everywhere – even where I least wanted it, as loud as anything in my cheap and crappy motel room. But the one place I really wanted it, I could not find: An open mic, jam session or other music-friendly place for amateur musicians.

Mokpo is celebrating the Korean Grand Prix Formula One race, and the city is in festivity mode. There is an outdoor stage just around the corner from my motel, and the stage was rocking all evening and until after midnight. They told me at the reception desk that the loud music – that pierced into the room through closed doors and windows – would continue until the morning. That is when I despondently filmed the dreary interior of my motel room in order to give an idea of how loud the music was in there. As it turned out, the music stopped shortly after midnight, so I could sleep. (I had an early interview to do in the paddock today.)

Having said that, there was a pretty good Led Zeppelin cover band playing much of the time, although it was not perfect and I enjoyed counting the notes they missed on the lead breaks. What was more difficult was figuring out during “Whole Lotta Love,” if the sexual panting was coming from the singer or from the room next to mine in the motel. Like many of the Formula One journalists, you see, I am staying in what is known as a “love motel,” meant for a short stop of an hour or so… such is the lack of accomodation in Mokpo.

A Korea Busking P.S.

October 24, 2010

Last night after a day at the races, I returned to my hotel with and decided to dine with a couple of Formula One journalist colleagues. As we made our way through the Formula One festival in Mokpo on our way to an Italian restaurant, I heard music coming from one of the performance stages on our route. It got my juices flowing as it was just an acoustic guitar and voice, and I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if there is anyway I can finagle my way up onto that stage???”

I asked my colleagues if I could indulge a little of their time just to check out the stage situation, and they agreed. As we approached and I saw a Korean man playing guitar and singing into a mic in front of an audience in chairs in front of the stage – not a massive audience, but a nice one – I said to one of my colleagues, “This guy seems awfully much like one of the guys I busked with in the street last night.”

My colleagues told me to go on and see if I could speak to the man hosting the show, the man with another mic in his hand, standing off to the side. And as we arrived at the stage, the performer got down off the stage and his set was finished and the MC announced a dancing act of young women to follow. But suddenly the singer/guitar playing and I realized that, yes, we had met up again. It was Won Jin, with whom I had busked the previous night.

We greeted each other warmly and I introduced Won Jin to my colleagues. It became clear quickly that there was a fixed show on the stage and I would not be able to gate crash, but Won Jin asked me if I was going to show up again later to busk on Rose Street at 10 PM, and agreed to do so. He also said he had a full show on the stage today at 5 PM. But I told him I had to attend the race, so could not see his show.

So off I went with my colleagues and we ate in the Italian restaurant, and at the end of the meal I took out my guitar to tune it, and one of the colleagues – we were now 5 at the table – suggested I do a song. So I sang “Crazy Love” in the Italian restaurant. Fortunately it was not too posh, so rather than being kicked out, I was applauded by the Korean waiters and waitresses.

Then I returned to Rose Street and played for nearly an hour, during which time another Formula One journalist – a photographer – colleague passed by and was surprised to see me playing in the street. But he realized too that I had new found friends that not many of the journalists without guitars had, and that the idea of carrying around a guitar to all the races wasn’t so bad, actually. I agreed.

Beginnings of a Musical Adventure in South Korea

October 22, 2010

I arrived exhausted in Seoul on Wednesday evening and immediately made my way over to a dinner date with Suki in the Hongik University area. Suki, whom I met at some musical evenings in Paris this year, and who is a music aficionado, wanted to show me around the neighborhood, which is full of bars and musical joints.

We had a dinner – actually, I did, since she had eaten already – at a Korean barbecue, and then headed over to one of her favorite joints, an underground music bar with a huge screen that shows music videos all night. You select the music you want to hear, and if they have a video, they put it up. I selected Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” and “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No go on the Van Morrison – too old, no doubt – but the Chili Peppers was great.

The area reminded me very much of Tokyo, although until then I had been surprised at how western the city looked to me compared to the other places I have been in Asia (Singapore, Shanghai, Malaysia and Japan).

There was no open mic, however, but on my walk back to my hotel I did find a musical joint that seemed to be a cross between open mic and karaoke, with recorded music backing and people from the public singing and hitting a tambourine and another percussion instrument. But I was so exhausted after not sleeping on the flight and having an early rise the following morning, that I opted out. In fact, I have an open mic lined up for Monday evening on my return to Seoul – so standby, and I keep my fingers crossed on it.

I am now writing this post from the town of Mokpo, which is the nearest city to the Yeongam Formula One circuit, where the race takes place this weekend. Last night I scoured through the main bar and music area of Mokpo, which turns out to be right next to my hotel. The main street is called Rose Street, and it has all sorts of cafes, bars and musical joints of one kind or another.

(My hotel, by the way, is called the Charmant, and my room overlooks Love Square, and the hotel sits next to a “sexy girls” venue of some kind. This is par for the course accommodation here at the Grand Prix.)

Unfortunately, my explorations of Rose Street revealed no place for me to play last night. I did find one place called “Live Cafe,” which had a stage all decked out with speakers, drum set, mic and other musical apparatus. But there was no band and no public at all. The owner indicated there would be no music last night. But I will try it again this weekend, as it looks promising.

I also found on the Internet a bar called Moe’s Bar and Grill. It is run by a Californian, but it turns out that while it seemed to advertise live music on the internet, there was none. Not surprise, actually, as there was no grill either. Just booze. A nice place, though, and I enjoyed a beer there, along with some of the Australian track marshals for the Formula One race. The nice bartender woman from Mongolia told me I was welcome to play music if I wanted to, but the atmosphere did not seem entirely right – too many people having a nice talk around the bar and probably not wanting to have some guy interrupt them with his songs.

I have not given up on Mokpo, though, and tonight I will explore all of the areas that have been set aside in a festival to celebrate the Formula One race. There are concerts with Korean bands and other festivities. Maybe there will be a corner of a stage or some other place where I can get in a song or two.

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