Lunchtime gets livelier

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Lunchtime gets livelier

SUWON, Gyeonggi
It’s late Monday morning, and the late spring sun is already blazing. In front of the Gyeonggi provincial government’s New Building, four Ecuadorian folk musicians are blowing wooden panflutes and strumming on string instruments resembling a mandolin.
These Indian entertainers, who go by the name Sisay, may be familiar to some commuters of Seoul’s subway system, where they routinely stake out some hallway space.
In Suwon, however, a troupe of Ecuadorian musicians is no everyday phenomenon.
For this, Gyeonggi province’s office workers can thank the provincial Culture and Arts Center, who kicked off lunchtime “Afternoon Art Festivals for Workers,” a two-week long series of spot performances at various business districts and factory sites, last week. The shows are part of the local government’s wish to bring culture to the hard-working masses.
“Because workers cannot find time off to enjoy cultural activities during the day, we are going to them in their field of work,” says Kim Sang-hee, an arts center official.
Curious or possibly bored, about 50 members of Gyeonggi’s civil service army have elected to break with their typical lunchtime routine of dining in the office cafeteria then chilling out with a cigarette and a 100-won coffee.
The strong sun leads many of those seated in the open courtyard to grab leaflets, golf hats or even their hands to create a bit of shade. Other workers elect to watch from the windows of their nearby office building.
A few minutes before the performances are to begin at 12:30 p.m., Sohn Hak-kyu, the governor of Gyeonggi province and other provincial officials take their seats in plastic chairs arranged in several rows before the stage.
Before long, the four musicians have created a festive atmosphere of suit-clad office workers clapping ― and even rocking ― to the beat of rambunctious Latin American folk songs, including the oft-heard “Lambada.”
After about 15 minutes, a traditional percussion group from the Arts Center takes over the stage to perform their sequence, rapping on Korean instruments such as the janggu, an hourglass drum, and kkoenggari, a hand-held gong. Even the governor and his entourage are now clapping excitedly as more people congregate around the stage. The show climaxes when both bands join forces onstage. A hearty round of applause, whistles and encore calls wrap up the lunchtime interlude.
“We usually spend lunch hour reading the papers, but to watch this kind of performance really cheers everyone up,” says the governor. “This fusion music repertoire is like providing refreshments, and also opportunities to mingle with others.”
From time immemorial, lunch hour has always offered 9-to-5’ers a breather from endless meetings, paperwork and fluorescent lights. It’s a time most every worker, be they laborer or CEO, anticipates: some chitchat with colleagues, or a stroll among the buildings in search of a comfortable bench or ledge. But Gyeonggi arts officials believe that a bit of entertainment during the hourlong respite can truly lift workers’ spirits, and even boost relations between labor and management.
Jung Hee-sub, the events planner, sums it up this way: “Instead of [workers] spending a meaningless lunch hour, we provide vitality to the stressed-out workers.”
Shin Gwang-sik, a government official, adds that it also instills a sens of solidarity, “I hope these lunch hour events can be seen by foreign migrant workers, some of whom are rarely, if ever exposed to this kind of cultural activity.”

Fast-forward 24 hours, and 26 kilometers (16 miles) northeast, to Bundang’s Samsung Plaza. More than 100 office workers, mainly from Samsung, have amassed shortly after noon for a show by Gyeonggi province’s pop orchestra, the “Rhythm Ensemble.”
As opposed to the previous day’s government staffers, today’s audience is dressed a bit more formally: men wear gray or white button-down shirts and ties; women, attired in semi-professional “power suits,” grip plastic cups with coffee or fruit shakes in one hand.
Because of the large crowd amassing, the performers opt to start the show 10 minutes early. “We’ve been publicizing today’s performance for a week so I guess they’ve been eagerly anticipating,” says Mr. Jung.
The band leader and electric violinist, Kim Gwon-sik, introduces the Rhythm Ensemble and jokes to warm up the crowd,
“This is the first time we’re performing on the cement sidewalks instead of on the stage. But we go wherever the crowd wants us,” he says, admonishing them to applaud with zest.
As tunes from the group’s drums, bass guitar, synthesizer and electric guitar blast out of the portable amplifiers on either side of the performers, Mr. Kim dances and acts like Vanessa Mae to the crowd’s enthusiastic hand-clapping. A saxophonist belts out a song by Korean pop star Cho Kwan-woo, and American Kenny G, inspiring women in the crowd to smile and swoon to the jazzy beat.
“I don’t want to go now,” says a female worker, when a colleague nudges her to indicate it is time to return to the office.
Kim Hyeong-seon, 48, a general manager at Samsung, says, “This is definitely a novel experience. It’s quite exhilirating.”

by Choi Jie-ho
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