As I approached the tent housing the Korean festival at Markham Park in Sunrise, Fla., I noticed the smell of barbecue. The men were cooking, and many of the older women served food as the speakers played a mixture of Korean, American and Spanish pop music.
I felt a little odd being there. As a student at a local taekwondo school, I was invited by my grandmaster to perform a demonstration at this festival. Being Filipino, I wasn’t acquainted with any Korean customs and felt out of place.
Practically everyone was Korean, spoke Korean and could read Hangul. I expected a small gathering of maybe 30 or 40 people, but instead, I saw about 300 people milling about underneath an enormous tent with teens and children running around in the field playing soccer.
Other people from my taekwondo school were with me. We wore our uniforms and sat together, staying relatively close to our grandmaster and apart from the rest of the crowd.
As we waited, I got the sense that people were curiously watching us because we dressed differently, but it wasn’t as if we weren’t welcomed.
On the contrary, the spoken Korean was translated into English. It seemed as if the reason behind this festival was to show pride in their culture in a way that was familiar to many American families — with barbecues and cookouts.
We, along with another taekwondo school, were set to perform demonstrations as the halftime act of the soccer matches.
The two schools attracted a crowd, with the majority of the people coming out from underneath the cool shade of the tent, pulling up chairs and sitting out in the field to be closer to where we performing. The audience was entertained, “oohing” and “aahing” as the schools broke boards and performed flips to the beat of the music.
Listening to their comments on the self-defense demonstrations and board breaking demonstrations made me realize that, although they respected the performers and the entertainment, they didn’t really understand the culture and technique that practicing taekwondo brought. It still felt like I was disconnected from them.
For instance, to me, it was perfectly logical to yell and then proceed to break a board, but for those who don’t practice taekwondo, its simply something theatrical and unnecessary.
After the demo, I decided to relax a little and enjoy my time there, which turned out to be a good idea.
I noticed some similarities between Filipinos and Koreans. For example, although there was a separation between the sexes when they interacted, families still sat and ate together. It gave me a sense of familiarity.
I mean, I still was surrounded by a culture I wasn’t really familiar with, but it wasn’t as if I was alone and completely confused. I had my friends who were just as lost as I was. Even still, I chose to enjoy what I could, even if it was just a plate of food with good company.
Photo courtesy of Frances Cha.