Have a ball, children, it's your day!

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Have a ball, children, it's your day!

Sung In-yong is a music teacher at an elementary school in northern Seoul, and the brains behind Korea's youngest rock band, Haetsal, which means "sunbeams." Today, as his charges practice a few songs, he stubs out his last cigarette. Smoking is not allowed in the school building, but exceptions are granted in the music studio on the top floor of Maehwa Elementary School. Already his ashtray is full of butts, signs that he hasn't been too pleased with the band's practice session. "C'mon, you can play without the notes," he says.

The earliest version of Haetsal played in public for the first time in 1999 in front of the Migliore Department Store in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul. Hundreds of passers-by and tourists stopped in front the stage to watch the youngsters play rocked-up versions of children's songs and covers of pop songs. The latest version of the group held its most ambitious show last year at a summer camp in front of 500 students from elementary schools all over Seoul. It was the first time the young musicians had performed in front of such a large audience. The Japanese broadcaster Asahi Television aired a story about the group after the event.

Unfortunately, it was a baptism by fire. One of the guitarists in the band, Min Ji-won came away with a bad taste after the show. "Students from other schools accused us of lip-synching," she says bitterly. "We were very upset and embarrassed. While we were packing up our gear on the stage, some girls even scorned us for not singing like professionals."

The group's prim-looking lead vocalist, Kim Ji-ae, interrupts and says, "What is their problem? I wonder how well they can sing in front of 500 people." Then she whispers something to Ji-won, no doubt an inside joke, and the two burst out laughing. Park Su-ji, the bassist, also chimes in: "Why should we be embarrassed? If they say we're lip-synching, it means we're good."

Through it all, the only boy in the group, the drummer Gang Seung-gyu, stays quiet, nervously shaking his legs and looking out the window. Clearly he's outnumbered and knows not to fight against the girl power. When the four girls remind him that he was late for today's rehearsal and demand an explanation, he shrinks. "Sometimes I wish there were more boys in the group," he says.

After the rehearsal the group heads out for a hot plate of tteokbokgi, rice cakes in chili paste. The conversation naturally leads to the teenagers' favorite subject pop idols. Ji-ae, a big fan of the local boy band Sinhwa, says, "The only time lip-synching is O.K. is when Sinhwa sings 'Perfect Man' in their music video. God, how can they be so cute?" Ji-won cuts in, shrieking, "You haven't heard anything unless you've heard BoA's new song."

But life for the kids is not just a series of jam sessions interspersed with pop star worship. The stress of practicing and performing can be quite a lot to handle. Sometimes the members in higher grades act as seniors, and discipline their juniors to show them "the right way." That process can entail physical punishment when the juniors flub up, such as push-ups or whacks over the head with a drumstick. Sensitive children can get very upset and choose to leave the band.

"It's not as exciting as I expected it to be," says the keyboardist, Nho Su-yeon. "After all the practicing we do, I prefer singing in a noraebang with a group of close friends. Singing in front of strangers still petrifies me."

Book this event: Fair shines light on world of reading

Canada's Children's Books Exhibition:

From Wednesday to May 20. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday and May 13. The Exhibition Hall of the National Library.

What better way to enjoy Children's Day than by visiting a book fair that enables kids to thumb through hundreds of books old and new?

This show, sponsored by the Canadian Embassy and the National Library, is designed to facilitate cultural exchanges among the younger generations of Koreans and Canadians. The showcase will include more than 300 books. Two hundred of them will be picture books with text in either English or French, while 100 are Canadian books that have been translated into Korean.

The books on display have been chosen by the Canadian Children's Book Center for being the most popular and highly regarded children's books over the past 30 years. The selections include beloved favorites like the classic series of "Anne of Green Gables," as well as "Caillou," "Franklin," "Timothy's Kindergarten," and "Cyrus the Talking Dictionary."

The books will introduce children to the world of imagination created by Canada's authors of children's books. The stories paint pictures of and tell stories set in Canadian locales like Quebec, Vancouver and remote parts of the Canadian wilderness.

Other events attached to the exhibition include animated films from Canada, English animated films made in Korea, drawing contests, story-telling by the wife of the Canadian ambassador, and tours of the exhibition provided in English.

For more information, contact the Department of Public Affairs at 02-3455-6083 or visit the Canadian Embassy's Web site at www.korea.gc.ca/children.

Snap, crackle and pop: Get set for fireworks

Everland's "Moonlight Magic Parade." Saturday, 8 p.m. Everland in Yongin, south of Seoul.

On the night before Children's Day, a parade of lights using a million small bulbs will be staged for a sensational evening of fireworks and lighting effects.

The theme of the event is "Magical Fairy Tale." Characters from children's stories such as "Alice in Wonderland" will join the parade, and there will be a spectacular "fountain dance."

For more information, visit www.everland.com or call 031-320-5000.

Horsing around in the off-season at the Phoenix Park resort

Phoenix Park Family Month Event

Saturday and Sunday. Phoenix Park Ski Resort in Pyeongchang, Gangwon province.

The resort invites families to visit over the Children's Day weekend to participate in recreational events such as face painting and sports like horseback riding. On Saturday evening, a animated film, "Goofy Movie," will be shown. On Sunday a "Mont Blanc Drawing Competition" will be held on the peak of the ski slopes. This is the first time the resort has offered horseback facilities. For information, call 02-527-9522.

100 years later, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell still flying high

To Sunday. Weekdays at 3:30, 6:30 p.m., weekends at 2, 5 p.m., with an added show Sunday at 11 a.m. Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. 02-399-1700.

The broadcaster MBC has been sponsoring Children's Day musicals for 25 years, and brings this endearing children's classic to the stage to mark the 100th anniversary of its publication. The show promises spectacular visual and sound effects and a cast of television personalities. For more information, visit www.event.imbc.com.

At Coex Aquarium, there's a lot to look at behind the glass

Weekdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Coex Mall in Samseong-dong.

Visit the beautiful saltwater aquarium to see more than 600 species. To celebrate family month in May, the aquarium will be hosting two events: the Korea-Japan Aquarium Culture Exhibition, in which Japan lends sea creatures to Korea and vice versa through June; and a drawing competition, sponsored by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs. Students can win prizes of up to 1 million won ($770). For information, call 02-6002-6200.

Life's a sandbox for those staying over at Busan Marriott

Sunday at noon. Grand Ballroom of the Busan Marriott Hotel.

The festivities begin with a lavish lunch buffet and proceed to an afternoon of exciting games and entertainment. The fun includes face painting, magic balloons, animal plays and many surprise gifts. The event will last for about four hours and is recommended for children under 12. Also, Haeundae Beach is just outside the hotel, and the city's aquarium is minutes away. For reservations, call 051-743-1234 (ext. 8341).

For an hour and a half, the Hilton lobby belongs to little ones

Sunday. Two sittings: from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Grand Hilton.

The Seoul Grand Hilton Hotel will deck out its lower lobby into a playground for the day, which the kids can enjoy after a hearty lunch. Among the party activities on tap are face painting, balloon artistry, magic shows and a number of contests for kids to compete in. The price is 36,000 won for adults and 18,000 won for children.

For reservations call 02-2287-8271 or 02-2287-8270; for more information, call Myung Ji-young at 02-2287-8367.

by Park Soo-mee, Choi Jieho

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