Around the world with songs, gongs

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Around the world with songs, gongs

It was March of last year that four Chung-Ang University theater majors suddenly set off on a quest to inform citizens the world over about Korean culture.
The students’ pursuit seemed imprudent and rash to some at first. Others expected the students to return in a matter of months, stereotyping the young people as being intolerant of despair and vulnerable to rash judgment.
Defying the odds, Kim Hyeong-joon, 27, Bae Jae-hoon, 25, Kim Jae-hwa, 24, and Park Seon-young, 23, managed to tour the world for more than a year as “Ari Korea.” They came back in one piece, though the round-the-world trip was never as easy as they hoped it would be.
When Ari Korea first set sail to China from Incheon on April 1, 2002, its participants were filled with hope and a sense of adventure. But by the time they arrived in Europe after traveling overland through Vietnam, India and Nepal, their pockets were empty, their bodies exhausted from fatigue.
Five youngsters initially set out on “Ari Korea.” But just four months later three of the founding members had bought one-way plane tickets home to Seoul, never mind their bruised arms, legs and egos. Two were later replaced.
The quest that “Ari Korea” set out on was not your typical backpacking journey with hostels and baguettes for breakfast.
In 25 countries, they donned hanbok, the traditional Korean attire, played gongs and drums, and performed “Samajangja,” a traditional Korean drama about a rich but ruthless man who avoids being dragged to hell during several attempts, from sun up to sundown.
At times, the four young Koreans were brought to police stations on charges of disturbing the public due to the “disturbing” music they produced. Many people along the route, they said, treated them as gypsies.
The worst incident occurred while the troupe was traveling through Europe as the 2002 World Cup tournaments took place in Korea and Japan.
The string of unexpected victories by the Korean national soccer team invited jealousy and hatred from many Europeans, they said. However, the students fondly recall the people in Africa, especially in Tunisia, who found some similarities between their native beats and the Koreans’ rhythms. A lot of viewers learned their music by heart, the students said; the response from the public in Africa and South America gave them further inspiration.
While team members say they romanticized the trip before they left, thinking they would play in the desert all day long, the reality was quite different: wet sidewalks were the norm along much of the route.
For the intrepid youngsters who stuck it through, such discomforts mattered little when compared to the experience as a whole. The students say the trip is an emotion and memory that could only be felt by experiencing it.
The quest has come to an end but the students hope a second and third Ari Korea will pick up where they began.

by Park Jee-young
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