March 1, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I had an amazing experience at the Paris Bar.

Admittedly, I do my job and don't think too much about the venue itself. But, through conversations with people who live in Seoul and go there regularly or travel through often, apparently Paris Bar is considered one of the very best venues in Seoul. Considering what a big city this is, that's pretty cool.

I've had the pleasure of being introduced to many important and famous Koreans who patronize the bar. However, a couple of weeks ago I had an encounter I won't soon forget.

I was only playing piano on my first set, which I sometimes do in order to build the momentum of the show. There was a table of Korean men and women seated right next to the piano who were applauding and whistling in appreciation. They invited me to their table for a drink on my set break. While a couple of them spoke English, the man who had been most vocal in his appreciation for my performance was sitting quietly, not saying a word. Suddenly he leaned over to his wife and began speaking in Korean. She began translating to me.

"My husband is Lee Seung Chul, and he is also a peformer. He wants to make sure you know how much he enjoys your piano playing. He thinks you are wonderful." I thanked them profusely for the compliment, and decided to give them a few CDs. I asked them to please stay for another set so I could sing for them.

Well, they ended up staying the entire night. I sat with them on every set break, and received more information about this man as the night progressed, both from himself and from all the staff in the bar who were telling me, "he is the MOST FAMOUS Korean musical star." By the end of the night he had, through his wife's translation, let me know that I could consider our friendship a true one, and that I could "drop his name" if it might help me at any time in my career. He then gave me an autographed copy of his CD and proceeded to invite me to a big concert he would be playing the following weekend in Busan. He was offering me free tickets, free accomodation, and inviting me to be a guest at their private party the following day. Unfortunately I was unable to attend becuse it was Valentine's Day, and my supervisor couldn't allow me to miss my performance that night.

It is difficult to express how much of an honor this interaction was for me because it involves many components of the Korean culture. For an older professional of high societal standing to (as they put it in Korean) "make a friendship with me" is one of the highest compliments that can be paid. Furthermore, to allow me to speak his name to others as a friend is also huge. I was extremely disappointed to not be able to accept his generous invitation, but he has been back to the bar since, and it is clear that he meant what he said about having a true friendship. In a society where "face" and position on the social hierarchy are things you encounter and deal with daily or even hourly, and where you are constantly expected to behave according to a complex set of social rules (which foreigners often admittedly do not completely understand), it was interesting to me that a common respect and love for music cuts through all of that, and allows genuine human interaction to take place.

One more reason why I love music......