Thursday, March 12, 2015

Drag and Burlesque at Itaewon's Moon Night

While I was looking back over a lot of my old posts from when I was still in college and then from my first year in Korea to make sure I hadn't missed anything I might want to share, I realised that one of my very first weekends there was, indeed, conspicuously absent. As was a post about Pride Day 2013.

Korea was such a complicated mixed bag for me, and because I've been feeling nostalgic and wanting to revisit warm, comforting memories now that I'm in uncertain and unfamiliar surroundings, now's as good a time as any.

It might've even been my very first weekend there. One of my coworkers invited me out with her and her girlfriends. Seems kind of random, but my first happy (or evil, I look kind of sinister) group pic from the wild ride that was the Seoul Train is with a group of fairly close-knit South African expats.
I got the impression that the privileged, white, Asia-travelling sector of SA's population is fairly small, and in kind of an ironic generalisation, they do all seem to know each other for the most part. 

We met up at Braai Republic, the immensely popular South African pub in a back alley of Itaewon. I learned about the joys of Hunter's Dry and Hunter's Gold cider, creamy spinach, slaw, and sweet potato. Yes, you can fill up there as a vegetarian.

The show itself was low-budget and amateur, but even now I'm surprised and impressed that they were able to put one on at all in such a conservative country for such a limited audience. Although, shitloads of people are there teaching English now, and there are the ubiquitous loud drunken military guys.

She slowly popped all the balloons on herself, though no one was interested in seeing anything underneath because she was so skinny.

I remember the highlight of the show being this chair dance, which culminated in the birthday cake being destroyed completely by her crotch.

The following summer I went back to Moon Night with more or less the same group, It wasn't just any day, either: it was the day of the extremely small Gay Pride Parade, which was a pretty short affair limited to a tiny circuit of the trendy, liberal, Hongik University area, and we were going to a drag show that night.

Again, I'm still surprised that any of these things exist in Korea, an extremely homophobic country. A lot of older people refuse to hear about equal rights and alternative sexual lifestyle issues at all, citing Christianity as their reason, and some go so far as to deny that any homosexuals exist in Korea. But wait, it gets better. If you read my post about the 2014 Pride Parade and protest, you'll know that some go further still, blaming the West for introducing homosexuality to Korea, along with its good buddy, AIDS.

I mean really.

My plan for that day was to 1) get my hair cut at Hair&Joy, immediately adjacent to the parade route, 2) watch the parade, and 3) linger or drink or whatever until it was time to go to Itaewon for the drag show.

Aaand it hasn't been this blonde since.
I blame air pollution and a lower UV index.
This doesn't sound complicated, but it certainly ended up being so for the grossly incompetent stylist at Hair&Joy. I'd read many online accounts of how Korean stylists have no idea how to cut or style Western hair, and hadn't gotten a haircut since the previous November (this was early June) out of fear that someone would fuck it up horribly. And I mean, Asian hair is totally different, so I get it, but someone had to know, right? Online reviews praised this place and its English-speaking stylists. Plus I was working in a government-owned building that flat-out refused to turn on the A/C at all, all summer, so that it was literally into the 90's in the offices and classrooms (a constant 32 or so) and extremely humid to boot (with wasps), so my hair hadn't been dry since May. It had to be done.

It took the guy over two hours.




I had brought along three, count 'em three, printed colour photos of myself with the haircut I wanted again, my old faux hawk. He studied them carefully and said he got it. Longer here, shorter here, thin it out so it'll stand up. 
Nope. He just kept snipping bits off, even when it got to the point where I was saying, 
"No. No. NO. Don't cut that any shorter, I told you-"

An intense look of disillusionment on my face, my icy gaze ricocheted off the vanity mirror into his soul, and the verdict was, "I look like a K-pop boy".

He was like, "No, you don't look like... -smirk- Okay, uh, well... Maybe you do a little..."

K-pop boy or middle-aged lesbian, I wasn't sure, but in a cruel twist of fate, in my so-appropriately androgynous state, I had missed the fucking parade.

Let this be a lesson to anyone who goes for a haircut in Korea. Ye be warned.

Anyway, I think I had some patbingsu to cool down - that summer I had to limit myself sometimes to 3 frozen things per day just to keep going - and killed time before going to the show.

I think it started almost two hours late, but that it was an intentional tactic to let the place fill up and force people to keep buying drinks while waiting, so, fair play, because it worked. I'd forgotten to charge my camera and it died during this opening monologue, but what I caught was still worth sharing:

I remember this guy being a hell of a singer

And I remember being a little bit jealous I didn't have outfits like this as a teenager

This sloppy, drunk motherfucker right here stole the show. There was a K-pop hit at the time about being a style/beauty queen, and the first line of the chorus goes, "Be-ko-zu I'-mu Mi-su Ko-ri-ya~" and this is the song that she, in her makeshift curtain dress, giant crappy Christina wig and socks with pumps, decided to sing. I was practically in tears and genuinely wishing that this person were Miss Korea, because of how much more interesting that would be than the widely Internet-circulated photos of identically plastic-surgeried robot women.

Not everyone was in costume, it was a great mish-mash, constantly unexpected

This chick's cool set reminded me of the hula hoop rave girl I'd seen at the Scandalesque show back in Phoenix, and made me miss my good friend Angelique. I'd also much rather have this on video, of course, but oh well.

 This was also a great set, with a very passionate, talented ladyboy performer.

 These girls were a hot mess, but I blame the super-delayed program schedule for their level of drunkenness and applaud what they managed to pull out of their asses

Mizz Noxema Jackson, is that you?

Good times. I hope they're still putting on shows like this; it's important for people to fill these kinds of niche markets, even if they're not exactly super good at it.

Oh! I almost forgot. That night my coworker and I slept in what has to be the most expensive jimjilbang in Korea, right in the middle of the foreign district. 
These public bathhouses are pretty terrible unless you're too drunk to remember that you're in one. You shower publicly while all the Korean woman stare at you, and then sleep on the floor with a whole bunch of other people, with a rented prison getup and a weird little brick thing as a 'pillow'.

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