Cirque du Seoul

"A city is a place," anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, "where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again."

Seoul is by far the biggest city I've ever visited, let alone lived in, and there's always somewhere to go and something to do. It's amazing to live in a place where everything is at your doorstep: restaurants, shows, shops. While I'm here, I'm trying to experience as much of it as I can. It's not always easy. Even though posters cover some subway platform walls, bus stop shelters, and every flat surface in popular university areas, I usually don't hear of concerts or shows I'm interested in until it's too late. Or in the case of Celine Dion, I couldn't find anyone who would be brave enough to join me.

This time, though, I heard about Cirque du Soleil coming to town well in advance and managed to collect a few friends who could join me.

Last night, we went to see Cirque du Soleil's Alegria at Olympic Stadium in Jamsil, where the parking lot had been transformed with a big top tent. We got lucky and managed to score 4 seats in the 4th row, great seats in what was already a very small, intimate venue. The show opened with a few words in Korean (the audience was impressed) and then continued with one amazing act after another: trapeze, contortion, fire acts---this show had it all. And it was all done in ridiculously extravagent costumes. It was awesome.

I continue to read event listings in English expat magazines and check out the posters when I walk by. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with everything that's going on. That's the thing about this city: it's got everything you could want, you just need to know where---and when---to find it.

World Breakdancing Championships

Korean b-boys (breakdancers) are considered to be some of the best in the world. So when I heard there was an international b-boy competition in Suwon, a city just south of Seoul, this weekend, I knew I had to go check it out.

Yesterday there was a performance competition where the sixteen crews danced a choreographed number. But tonight, sixteen teams from fifteen countries were here to show off their skills and compete for the title at the R16 Korea Sparkling World B-boy Championships.

We arrived late (due to a photo-op outside at the Urban Arts Festival where we created our toughest, best b-boy/b-girl poses in front of a graffiti wall) and missed the first two battles. By the time we sat down, Japan's Turn Phrase Crew and Italy's Rapid Soul Crew were heating things up on stage. Japan won, which, after the longest, best head spin I've ever seen, didn't surprise me. Next, Brazil's All-Star Crew beat Israel's Unstoppable Lions. Norway's Ghost Crew couldn't take on USA's Super Crew and they were eliminated.

Korea's River Crew stepped up against The Netherlands' Funky Dope Maneuvers. It was a great battle that was tough to call from the stands, but the win went to River Crew, who drew large cheers from the crowd.

ext, Belgium's Hoochen Crew battled France's Pockeman Crew. My favourite part of this 8-minute battle was when the Pockeman boys laid down on the stage and pretended to fall asleep while the Hoochen Crew performed. And the judges must have felt the same way, because Pockeman came out with a win. The last preliminary was between China's Pioneer Crew and Russia's Top 9 Crew, with Russia coming out on top.

During the intermission, we were treated to a few special performances, like an amazing beatboxer. We also saw a hilarious performance by a black-light dance crew called Expressions, who recreated scenes from E.T., Transformers, and other pop culture favourites. We were laughing the whole time. Finally, a Korean group performed a dance with a French carnival theme called Marionette. But then it was time to get back to the main event: the b-boy semi-finals.

We started the semi-finals with Korea's Gamblerz Crew versus South Africa's Immortal Style Crew. It was a good battle, very close, but the Gamblerz managed to out-battle Immortal Style, much to the dismay of my South African friend sitting beside me. Turn Phrase Crew and All-Stars Crew battled next, and boy was it a great one. Turn Phrase Crew was "AMAZING!!" according to my notes. After one of their members managed to hula hoop while head-spinning, I called out, "It's over! It's over!"---I thought Japan was clearly the winner. But the judges apparently had a different idea because the Brazilian boys took the win.

The next battle was big one: Super Crew against Rivers Crew. Super Crew had some unique moves, like the surfboard, and at the end of the battle, the Americans in the audience chanted, "USA! USA! USA!" but it was the Rivers Crew who walked away winners.

p next was Pockeman Crew and Top 9 Crew. The French fellas had some amazing group routines and maneuvers, and at the end my friends and I voted for Pockeman across the board. But in what I consider to be the biggest shocker of the night, Russia's Top 9 Crew were the ones voted through to the finals.

The top four crews to battle in the finals were the All-Stars (Brazil), Gamblerz (Korea), Top 9 (Russia) and Rivers (Korea). Gamblerz and All-Stars were up first. Both teams stepped up from their previous battles and gave us a good show, but the local boys won to give them a chance to battle for first place. Next, Top 9 battled last year's champs, Rivers Crew, and won.

After a short intermission where we were entertained by a couple of hip hop dancers, who wore old-school 1930's gentleman's outfits and danced reminiscent of Chris Brown or Boyz II Men, it was time for the finals.

Before Top 9 and Gamblerz to battle for the championships, Rivers Crew and All-Stars Crew had to battle for third and fourth place. After a fierce battle where both side brought their best moves, it was the All-Star Crew who came out on top, winning third place, leaving the 2007 R16 champs in fourth.

Finally, the MC called out, "Final battle, y'all!" and the Gamblerz and Top 9 crews stepped on stage. This battle had less group moves and was more technical that a lot of the battles we had seen. It was a good match, but I, like I'm sure most of the crowd, was cheering for the Korean Gamblerz Crew.

It was an exciting moment, waiting for the winners to be named. Finally the MC called out, "Gamblerz Crew!"

Korean boys had done it again.