Guzheng and Guitar Ensemble Trip, Korea
From 8 to 14 December 2012, the Dunman High School Guzheng and Guitar Ensemble organised a joint trip to South Korea.
We were warmly welcomed by our host school, the National High School of Traditional Arts.The local students were warm and enthusiastic as our students performed several musical pieces. We were also treated to many splendid performances that allowed us to know and understand more about Korean culture and traditional Korean instruments.
For the second part of this exchange programme, we were given the opportunity to learn two traditional Korean instruments, the gayageum, an instrument similar to the Chinese guzheng, and the samulnori, the traditional Korean drum. Both were deeply interesting to learn and gave us an insightful glimpse into Korean culture.
The performances that we watched in Korea were really great, be it the Nanta cooking show or the mini-concert put up by the Korean students in our hosting school. They were all very confident of themselves, and because they were very absorbed in whatever they were performing, they felt rather free and comfortable with expressing themselves. They were thus able to engage their audience very well. Especially for the performers at the Nanta cooking show, they enjoyed being on stage, and they were very alert and quick to make any impromptu changes to the original script that they had rehearsed according to the audience’s reaction to what they had performed.
One of the places we visited was the Demilitarized Zone, also known as DMZ. After World War II and the Korean War which eventually took place, Korea was officially divided into North and South Korea individually. Families were separated, and they most probably would not have the chance to see each other again. We can imagine the kind of unjust and anguish they must have felt, however, the truth was that there really was nothing much they could do to change the situation. We really admire the Koreans for their spirit and courage to be able to face such a hard truth and move on with life. This is something that we could learn to build up within ourselves, that kind of resilience and in some cases, the willingness to learn to let go and move on with life.
Other than that, we visited 2 major structures built in ancient Korea, the first being the Hwaseong fortress, which is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. The fortress was a city wall for the Joseon city Suwon. At each of the sentry posts, the highest points of the fortress, we had a grand view of Suwon, a highly concentrated metro area with not many high-rise buildings.
We also went to Gyeongbokgung palace, one the 5 grand palaces built in the Joseon era. There were a total of 12 palaces within this palace, which made it a popular location to film period Korean dramas such as 大长今. We also got to see the changing of guards ceremony at Gwanghwamyun, whereby palace guards change their duty through an elaborate procession that had musical accompaniment backed by instruments such as conch shell, drums, and horns.
On the last day of the trip, we had dance lessons at a Korean dance school. We learnt the choreography of Miss A’s hit song: “I don’t need a man”. Interestingly, according to the tour guide, this song was chosen after much consideration due to many K-pop dances being too inappropriate for students. That being said, we still enjoyed the dance and even had a mini dance-off. The session reached its climax when Zhen Yang from Guzheng defeated the best female dancers to emerge victorious.
Another highlight of the trip is the Seoul Citizen Safety Training Centre which provided us with an entirely new experience which definitely made an impact on us. We experienced three simulated situations – smoke from fire, an earthquake, and a typhoon. Having grown up in a country blessedly protected from natural disasters, these experiences taught us to appreciate Singapore better, and realize how fortunate we are to be living in a non-disastrous area.
Notably, unlike Western culture which promotes individual dining from one’s own plate, the Korean eating culture is much more group-oriented. For most of our meals, four people would sit at a table and take food from a big plate in the centre of the table. This gives a greater sense of camaraderie and bonding. Indeed, by the end of our trip, we felt much more bonded, thanks to the close-knittedness of the Korean culture.