I'm actually beyond excited to share this story mainly in part because it was a case of spontaneity working out in the most unexpected and best way possible. Last Thursday Tiani and I were bumming around town waiting to watch the Black Panther.
Tiani and I at Nambu market.
As we were walking around we stumbled across a certain building. Neither of us knew what it was but the doors were unlocked so being the intrepid souls that we are, we waltzed right in. (I made Tiani go first to be honest because I have an unfortunate history of accidentally setting off alarms.) It's a big airy building but it looked abandoned. Leaves on the ground, old pamphlets left out, that kind of thing. We thought we were alone. WE WERE WRONG. As we (me mostly) were going around shamelessly opening doors we ran into a man with his dog. We were slightly derailed by this but were fully prepared with the standard fallback should we needed it. (I'm deaf and she doesn't speak Korean.) As luck would have it we didn't need to lie through our teeth. He just smiled and waved and left us to our own devices. Alright, cool beans; Exploration continues. By this time we had ascertained that this place was a music hall of some kind. We found practice rooms with different instruments and places where groups having camps could sleep and shower along with a cafeteria like setting. A pretty nifty setup all in all and not something we expected to find in this small town of Jinan. The last place we found while snooping around was the stage hall. A large room. Solid wooden floors. Dance mirrors on one side. Sound proofed. A nice wide but low stage. Pretty swanky. This is where it gets interesting.
The man from before had followed us in. He was still smiling but he hadn't actually spoken to us so Tiani and I were taking bets as to whether or not he was a ghost. He was in fact a real person. We established this when he pulled a Jangu off the rack and beckoned us closer.
This is a mini Jangu that I made previously at a teacher conference. A full sized Jangu is about two feet wide.
Just like that this stranger started teaching us how to play! He taught us how to hold the sticks properly, where to strike on the drum, and basic patterns. Tianis Korean is a million years better than mine so they were able to communicate while I was banging away on a drum. (It still blows my mind that even though he and I couldn't directly speak to each other he was still capable of teaching me. Proof that music is universal) He invited us to come back that Tuesday night for a real Jangu lesson. Naturally we said of course. At this point we were both on a cultural high for two reasons: A) We got to experience something authentic. It was a random encounter that wasn't staged for the foreigners. B) This was the first time for the both of us (well at least for me) that we were engaged by someone who did more than ask where we were from. He didn't treat us like foreigners which is a novelty.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. I had been looking forward to this all weekend so I was borderline Chihuahua excited. Neither of us had any idea of to expect. We arrived a few minutes early but no one else was there. Our teacher showed up and went straight to business, selecting drums for us to use. Tiani and I are now thinking that we're the only two for this lesson but I had brought my game face and refused to be deterred by potential awkwardness.
The first major difference between Thursday and Tuesday was the Jangu themselves. On Thursday we had simply sat on the floor with them sitting in front of us. Tuesday saw these bad boys slung over our shoulders and strapped to our waist. (I now have a slight bruise on my hip from where it rested). I'm still not entirely certain how he fastened the drum to me but it was definitely effective; that instrument wasn't going anywhere.
For the first twenty minutes or so it was just the three of us and he was going over correct positioning of hands and fingers and basic strike patterns. Then others started slowly trickling in. There was a major difference between these people and Tiani and I (besides being Korean, duh.) They brought their own instruments. This was when I began to realize that not everything was as it appeared. My suspicions were confirmed when these people began independent warm up exercises. This was not a class of newbies. This was an established group. We were not attending a lesson. We were invading a seasoned groups practice time; and they were perfectly chill with that. (It occurs to me now that their practice actually started at 7:30 but this man showed up a half hour early to give us a bit of one on one instruction.)
At this point I had been feeling pretty confident and smart. look at me I can tap out this two part beat without screwing up! Which is basically the equivalent of hot cross buns on a recorder. We were splashing around in the kiddie pool. Then they snatched off our floaties and chucked us in the deep end. One minute we were standing a circle introducing ourselves then the next the beat dropped and it was like we had been press ganged into a marching band. It was exhilarating. These people had an entire choreographed routine and they expected us to just go with it. We did our dead level best and it was gratifying that even though we didn't spin the right way or dance exactly in time with the beat and basically looked like dancing ducks they didn't belittle us. I don't speak Korean well but I know when people are trash talking us and that didn't happen. They shared snacks with us, chatted, practiced some more; a good time was had by all.
What started as a simple walk through town morphed into an adventure that blew the top off of any expectations I might have had. I've been in Korea for seven months so far and this is the first time I've felt a solid connection with the community. I'll definitely be back next week.