MustVisit-SanDiego

7 Must-Visit Places in San Diego CA

Famous for its beautiful beaches and clear skies, San Diego California is indeed a place that one must visit at least once in his life. Last September 2016, I traveled to America for six weeks and stayed in San Diego for around two weeks. Within that time along with the help of friends and family who are locals in San Diego, I was able to visit so many beautiful places and encounter firsthand the laid-back California culture.

San Diego is a county in South-Western California composed of diverse races. Since it is located by the border between America and Mexico, almost half of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Also, I was overwhelmed with the amount of Filipino people and Filipino shops/restaurants in almost every area in San Diego. So for all Filipinos like me who are planning to travel to San Diego, you don’t have to worry about getting homesick or anything of that sort.

Now Let me present to you the top places I recommend you to visit in San Diego.

1. La Jolla Beach

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I absolutely loooove this place, I must have visited three/four times. A 15-minute drive away from downtown San Diego, La Jolla is a hilly seaside community with 7 miles of coastline surrounded with upscale villages.

We had a hard time finding parking so I suggest you go early as parking slots fill out fast (especially the ones with a longer range time (2~4 hours). There are also a bunch of restaurants you can eat at in front of the beach where you’ll get to enjoy the view. We ate brunch at Brockton Villa Restaurant which was right at the street in front of the beach.

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Enjoying this beautiful view while eating brunch

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For animal lovers, you’ll definitely have fun getting up-close to the seals and sea lions that are just lazing around on the shorelines. I kid you not, once you go past the sea wall that prevent them from climbing up the land, you’ll see that the La Jolla seals and sea lions have invaded the area from rocks to the sands. They are almost always out except when it rains so you’ll definitely get to see them at least once before you leave San Diego.

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Sea lions and seals enjoying their tan

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Featuring the seals and sea lions as my backdrop

WARNING: Make sure to not get too close to the sea lions and seals no matter how harmless you think they are because they will JUMP AT YOU, and yes, they do bite. So just enjoy gushing at them at a safe distance, let them enjoy their peace.

Go further straight and you’ll reach the rocks and the magnificent view of the beautiful blue/green waters.

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2. Coronado Island

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Pristine white sand beach of Coronado Island

Right from crossing the Coronado Bridge alone, my expectations of Coronado Island were already skyrocket high and still, the beauty of the island itself has exceeded these expectations. It is the haven of all havens out there from the white sand, calm waters, to beautiful infrastructures such as Hotel del Coronado.

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Coronado Bridge on the way to Coronado Island

Hotel del Coronado or “The Lady Who Lives By The Sea” is astonishing to say the least. It is an iconic landmark built 125 years ago where prominent figures such as politicians, royalties, and presidents have stayed in. Visitors are free to enter the luxurious hotel and look at its grand interior. There are also shops inside the hotel with luxury brands such as Hermés, Prada, and the like.

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View of Hotel Del Coronado from the beach

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Small park of Hotel del Coronado

 

3. Balboa Park

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I mentioned earlier that the San Diego population is composed of diverse races and one would be able to see this in Balboa Park. The park remains a favorite hangout of locals especially families who are out for the weekend.

Balboa Park is composed of more than 17 museums, art venues, gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions. The Spanish-style architecture of the infrastructures are very beautiful and intrinsic. Here, visitors can enjoy a day of relaxation and entertainment with the various street performances of artists, mimers, and many more activities.

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Right after getting dropped off, visitors will be able to spot the International Cottages, hosted by the House of Pacific Relations, made up of 34 cottages each hosted by a national group or country in the world.

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Cottage for Germany in the House of Pacific Relations

The main attraction in San Diego Park is located right in the middle of it, the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. You could see ducks waddling around by the pond and at the end of it, lies an open building which is actually a small community garden where you can see various plants and flowers. This is said to be the most beautiful garden in the entire Balboa Park, plus, it has free admission!

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Lily Pond, the center of Balboa Park

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Entrance to the Botanical Garden right at the end of the pond

 

4. Spanish Village Art Center

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The Spanish Village Art Center is part of Balboa Park but I believed it deserved a section all for itself. As soon as you arrive, you’ll get to hear Spanish live music at the background coming from the shops/exhibits and street performers. It is a large outdoor art center with exhibits that offer various arts and crafts that you can check out and buy. You could also have a portrait of yourself drawn by artists outside.

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Sculptors’ Guild Gallery with their featured sculptures

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Artist drawing a sketch at the Spanish Village

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5. USS Midway Museum

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Get to experience the life onboard America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier and the largest ship in the world (until 1955). The vessel was named after the Battle of Midway and served for 47 years until its last journey on 1991 to the San Diego Harbour where it became the USS Midway Museum.

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Front view of the Midway vessel

You could go on a self-guided audio tour or ask one of the crew members to tour you around. We were toured by a family friend who was a retired navy (who also scored us free admission to the museum so yay) and it took us almost the whole day to actually go around the entire ship. The tour was both entertaining and interesting; with so many levels and corners to explore — from hanger decks, sleeping quarters, engine room, flight control area, and even cells where soldiers used to be detained/jailed in while inside the ship. Check out the complete map of the Midway here.

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One of the many control rooms in the ship

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Some sections in the ship are closed for visitors

You could also go at the top flight deck which exhibit various aircrafts that have served the US Navy, many of which you’re allowed to climb in so you could pretend to be a pilot and take lots of pictures.

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I also had the chance to talk to a World War II veteran who was more or less 90 years old. He talked about his experience as a navy soldier during the Battle of Midway and how they were able to survive the war with the ship. He recounted the friends he lost during the war.

6. San Diego Bay

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Located at the Western side of Downtown San Diego lies the San Diego Bay or the waterfront Embarcadero (“landing place”). It is the terminal for all the cruises and ships that enter into San Diego. It is also where the USS Midway vessel is at so if you arrived early at the museum (like how I did) and have extra time to spare, I suggest you to go around the bay and have a look at San Diego’s most significant feature, its terminal ports. Here, you’ll get to see a glimpse of the beautiful Coronado Bridge, along with unique restaurants and shops.

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Port terminals by the San Diego Bay

Also a must-see in San Diego which can be found in the bay is the National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military memorial park. The first thing you’ll get to see is this giant kissing statue of a sailor from the World War II and a nurse, titled as “Unconditional Surrender”. Tourists love to take photos of this as it imposes serenity and passion, add to it the USS Midway as its backdrop.

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Memorial Park for Bob Hope and the Military

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Thirdwheeling around the world

By the elevated plaza, there are also 15 life-sized bronze statues, each representing a member of the military in service. At the front is a statue of Bob Hope, making it seem like he is leading the entire pack. Surrounding it are more statues, figures, and placards giving tribute to the officers and men who fought for the country.

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Soldier statues in support of Bob Hope

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7. Universities

The universities in San Diego is easily part of the most beautiful schools I have ever been into. Along with the perfect seaside view, they are also so huge that one literally won’t be able to tour each school with just a single day. I went to the University of California San Diego (where I’m planning to for Masters in Business Analytics), University of San Diego, and San Diego State University.

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The world-famous Geisel Library of UC San Diego

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The Rady School of Management in UC San Diego

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Entrance to the University of San Diego

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Beautiful roads in the University of San Diego

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Architecture inside USD befitting for a private university

So that has been my top 7 Must-Visit Places in San Diego CA, I hope this would help you plan your next trip to San Diego!

Up next, I’m planning to post a guide on the hippest places I’ve been to on my travel to Los Angeles CA.

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Have you ever been to San Diego? Or are you planning to ever visit San Diego? Let me know what places you intend to or have visited on the comments below!

With love,

PHILSTAR

Stepping Out Into The World

As published in The Philippine Star on January 29, 2017 at the Sunday Lifestyle section, page D-2:

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A trip to South Korea is a dream of many; I’m fortunate enough to have been given by the Korea Tourism Organization Manila Office a free round-trip ticket to the country last December as my prize for being the 3rd place in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest organized by the Korean Cultural Center. While this is not my first time visiting Korea, this trip has enabled me to see it in a new lens. It also made me relive my memories of being an exchange student in Korea two years ago.

For as long as I could remember, it has always been my dream to visit Korea. This started back in 2008, on my first year in high school, when I started learning the language for the first time. A transferee student from Korea, which I befriended, taught me the basics of the Korean language – from reading and writing Hangul, the Korean writing system, to phrases and grammar structure. Eventually, I became more confident in watching shows without the help of English subtitles, and after just a year, I started translating full Korean shows into English. I would say that the best way to learn the Korean language is not to just rely on books but to continuously immerse oneself into everything Korean –from watching Korean shows, listening to K-pop, and taking Korean classes.

My lifelong dream was fulfilled on 2014 when I got accepted as an exchange student in Korea University. I remember the variety of emotions that rushed through me the moment the plane landed in Incheon International Airport, Korea’s main gateway: I was finally in the very country I’ve only imagined and watched from dramas and shows. And, arriving on the very day of my 18th birthday just made it more special.

Being the only Filipino out of a thousand exchange students in Korea University, I was compelled to socialize with others. The anxiousness of being alone for five months encouraged me to really step out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, the buddy system offered by the Korea University Buddy Association (KUBA) is one of the best in the world, and was very accommodating. It is here that I found my closest friends, who I still keep in close contact up until now, and who I have been meeting in other countries for travel. We saw each other almost everyday for five months, and I became so comfortable with them that it almost felt like I have known them for years. Although I was alone when I arrived in Korea, I left with hundreds of new friends who all came from different countries.

I also learned to handle being alone, and in the process, I learned that I am much more independent than how I put myself to be. Actually, some of the greatest moments I had were spent getting lost and wandering around all by myself. I was able to grow independently in an unfamiliar environment. I got lost so many times in Korea, but it was okay because I was able to pass through places I would have never seen had I passed by the usual route. It’s amazing how from not even knowing how to take the train or being unable to take a taxi by myself in Manila, I became a person that could take the subway and roam around the streets of Seoul late at night until dawn.

Perhaps because I had limited time in the country, I ended up saying yes to everything that I was invited to. I went paragliding and conquered my fear of heights, I ate raw octopus and raw beef, I went to Busan all by myself and ended up missing the last train going back to Seoul, I had my first fall and snow experience, I reported in front of a class which was being broadcasted live in China, I shopped until 6AM at Dongdaemun, and many more. I ended up doing so many things I never imagined myself to have ever done.

My fangirl dreams were also very much satisfied as I got to attend so many K-pop concerts for free, got to watch filmings of Korean shows, and I even got to meet K-pop stars face to face. In one of my classes, Korean Media and Popular Culture, I got to meet Alexander Eusebio, a former member of K-pop group U-KISS, who sat right in front of me for an entire semester. There were also times when we ran into each other outside class, in cafes or restaurants, and he was nice enough to approach me and talk with me for a few minutes. It was surreal how someone I used to watch only from my laptop screen was right in front of me and was actually talking to me.

Studying in Korea was everything that I expected it to be, and even more. The fulfillment of a lifelong dream, meeting different kinds of people, gaining a family away from home, and having memories that are mine to keep forever made my stay in Korea more than a mere experience. In fact, I would say that it has been the best decision I have ever made in my life yet. Spending an entire semester in Korea made me fall in love with the country – from its people, the language, and the culture. Thus, when it ended, I was absolutely devastated. The minute I set foot in Manila, it felt like I just woke out of a beautiful dream: like building a life for five months and leaving it forever in order to go back to the life that I temporarily left for five months.

On the other hand, it is true that coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. Being away and living in a foreign place made me appreciate the Philippines more. I realized that there is so much more about our country that I didn’t know about, so many more beautiful things that I haven’t recognized before. And as cliché as it sounds, I came back as a different person. On my fourth year in college, I joined so many events and became more confident in myself as a person. This was how I was able to have the confidence to participate in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest. Through this event, I was able to talk about my experience as an exchange student in Korea, and encourage other students to apply for an exchange program.

Little did I know that joining this contest was also an opportunity to bring me back again in Korea. When I was informed of my free round-trip ticket, I was ecstatic and nostalgic. I decided to stay in Korea for two whole weeks in order to get to do a lot of things. Instead of going to the usual tourist spots, I opted to visit places I have never been to yet, mostly to small cities outside Seoul such as Guri, Suwon, and Gapyeong. Since I was alone for this trip, I decided to become more adventurous and spontaneous, I just ended up walking to anywhere I could go to. I also became more confident with my Korean language skills that I ended up talking in pure Korean.

I also got to meet up with many friends. I spent Christmas Eve with my Korean high school friends who I haven’t seen for like five years now, and we also spent Christmas day in Hongdae whose entire street was filled with performances and people giving free hugs. I also met up with Korean buddies and fellow exchange students from Korea University, and was glad that even after two years our friendship still hasn’t changed and there were no awkwardness between us. Most specially, I reunited with one my best friends from exchange who came from Hawaii who was with his friends for this trip. I spent my last three days in Korea with them where I volunteered to be their tourist guide, and I experienced so many things I couldn’t have done alone such as: riding a zip line to Nami Island (in the middle of winter), strolling around the palaces in a hanbok (the Korean traditional attire), and playing in the snow on the streets.

This recent trip made me realize how comfortable I am being in Korea, and how much I consider it as my second home. Even when this is already my fourth visit and even when I’ve been to so many places and done so many things here, I still can’t get enough of this country. There is just so much more left to explore, and so much more to experience.

I ended my speech for the Korean Speech Contest through the words of Ahn Jung Geun, a patriot of Korea, “A man keeps a great ambition through stepping out into the world”. My entire stay in Korea has enabled me to learn more about the world and myself, and also left me with so much more to wonder about. Through this article, I would like to encourage other people to find an opportunity where they can step out more into the world, because just like how doing so made me who I am now, I guarantee that it would also change their lives for the better.

Janine Laddaran, 20, is a recent graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. She was an exchange student in Korea University under Ateneo’s Junior Term Abroad program on 2014. She also won 3rd Place in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest hosted by the Korean Cultural Center.

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With love,

YEAR-END

Watching Year-End Award Shows Live in Korea

The most wonderful time of the year for everyone is the holiday season of Christmas and New Year. This is the same case for K-pop (as well as K-Drama/K-Variety) fans as the holiday season means the season for year-end award shows where all idol groups/actors/entertainers gather, provide us with breathtaking (and oftentimes surprising) performances, and get awarded for their performances for the year.

This is also probably the reason I choose to travel to Korea at the end of the year (despite the dreadful cold weather of the winter season). I have been attending/watching these award shows for three years now, ever since I was an exchange student in Korea University last 2014. So for all fans who are planning to visit Korea and want to see Korean artists, I recommend you to watch the year-end awards (if you don’t have tickets, you may just watch the Red Carpet instead) instead of buying concert tickets for just one idol group. Plus, they’re free.

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I couldn’t find any other information online on how these events happen (I believe there isn’t one even until now so I decided to post one hehe) so the first time I decided to watch one, I just went to the venue (which was the 2014 MBC Drama Awards) without any idea at all what to do. And I was so shocked at how close I was to so many A-List actors and actresses as I watched them trot down the red carpet, greet fans at the sidelines, and pose for the various journalists there to take their pictures.

So, to help out all fans out there, I have decided to compile my know-how in attending these events.


What are the Year-End Award Shows?

True to its name, these shows happen at the end of the year usually between December 21 to December 31. The three major broadcasting companies (SBS, MBC, and SBS) each host the three kinds of award shows: Music Awards/Festival (for idol groups and musicians), Drama Awards (for actors and actresses), and Entertainment Awards (for variety shows, comedians, and entertainers).

SBS has recently created the SBS Awards Festival (SAF) which happens for an entire week while the three award shows happen. Fans can take part in the SAF (through a lottery which I was lucky to get picked to attend last 2015) where you can participate in the booths of every SBS program, join games and experience being in the program, and win special prizes (like autographed CDs or tickets for the award shows). There are also live performances of K-pop artists for each day of the festival, the day I went I got to see performances of Ben and Rose Motel. Fans (Korean and International) may apply in SBS’s website (around November) to have a chance to get in the festival.


GUIDE TO WATCHING THE RED CARPET

  • Find the details of the award shows online

The first thing you need is to research when and where the award shows will take place. Usually, the details go out as early as November that year to as late as the first week of December. What I do is I simply google the name of the broadcasting company, the certain award show I want to watch, and the year (example: KBS Music Awards 2017).

Luckily, these details are readily available because of fan cafes/blogs who post them as soon as the broadcasting companies release the details.You may also visit each of the broadcasting companies’ websites (I have provided the links for you, just click on each of them): SBS, KBS, MBC. They usually make a big banner on their websites for the award shows indicating the date and venue, but you would need to be able to read Korean for this.

SBS, however, has an English option in their website to cater to their international viewers, and like I said earlier, visit their website by November and apply for the lottery to get in the SBS Awards Festival.

  • Prioritize which events to go to

The downside for these events is that they usually coincide with each other. And the events are far away from each other so you won’t be able to attend one and run to the next one. So after confirming the details, you would have to choose which artists you would really like to see.

TIP: The red carpet for the Drama Awards are usually the closest to the fans, you get to see (and somewhat interact) with the actors and actresses more closely than you will with K-pop idols in the Music Awards.

  • Go to the event early

The shows usually start at 8PM (Korean time), meaning the show gets broadcasted live by that time. And since the show starts with the red carpet, the artists also arrive around that time. Some artists even arrive earlier (like around 30 mins before the start of the show). So in order to have enough time to look around the red carpet venue (or find tickets to get inside, too), and find the best position to stay in, you really need to arrive early. You would also need enough time to find the actual venue if you aren’t familiar with the location yet.

Arrive at least 3 hours (but of course, the earlier the better because expect fansites to be there taking pictures, too), find the best location, and standby until the start of the event.

  • Wear high heels or bring a stool

I cannot stress this enough. Korean fans do not just arrive early, they are also very much prepared. Imagine my shock when I first started watching a concert in Korea: I was on the 4th row standing and thought I had a pretty good view when the fans in front of me started bringing out their stools and became a foot taller than they were (which was already tall to begin with).

So if you’re not that blessed with tall genes, you have to do everything you can to make yourself taller and have better view. Do note though that if you’re already in front, you don’t have to do this because it would just make the people behind you suffer. And I warn you, Korean fans are not afraid to shout at you lmao they even shouted at the reporters (who were just doing their jobs to take pictures of the artists) because they were blocking their view of the oppas.

  • Bring a monopod/selfie stick, and extra battery pack (or powerbank)

Let’s say you arrived to the event late, and you can’t see anything aside from the back of the heads of the fans in front of you. The best way you’d be able to see (and capture) whatever is happening in the red carpet is to watch it from your phone or camera, which you’ll only be able to effectively do through the help of a monopod or selfie stick. If you don’t have one, you may purchase one in Korea for 10,000 won or less; it’s everywhere from Myeongdong to Hongdae to every Daiso out there.

Also, do note that on the red carpet, the artists usually don’t arrive right after each other. Therefore, expect idle moments where you have to wait for the next artist to arrive. So through the help of a selfie stick with your phone in the air, you’d get to rest your hands and anticipate if the next artist has already arrived. Don’t forget to bring an extra battery pack as well or a powerbank because I’m pretty sure your phone and camera would be drained of its battery with all the waiting you have to do.

  • Be ready to get pushed (A LOT)

Like I have been continuously stressing, fangirls could get really wild. I can’t count how many times I have been pushed and stepped on (my foot, I mean) by Korean fangirls during concerts and events like these. This is the why whenever I attend concerts in my home country, I tend to be in the very front row as I have already been prepared by the wildest fans out there lmao.

But yes, prepare yourself physically and mentally for this, especially if you’re in a place with a good view. The fans would push you to be in your current position, but no matter what happens, do your best to stay in your place. I actually almost got into a fight when I was watching the red carpet of the 2015 SBS Drama Awards: these Korean high school girls kept on pushing me but I did my best to not to be pushed (lol because dude no one can stop me from seeing Yoo Ah In) so they started shouting at me in Korean. But I pretended I couldn’t understand them and started speaking English instead. With that, they stopped talking to me and kept on cursing me quietly instead (which I understood but oh well hahaha).

  • Choose your place carefully

This is the reason you have to arrive at the event early. You have to consider a lot of aspects in choosing where to stay in watching the red carpet. You may opt to go outdoors (usually by the entrance of the building location): a pro for this is you get to see the artists go out of their cars and see them longer than when you are inside, however, you would have to endure the cold weather. This is usually the case for MBC and KBS Drama Awards as these shows are held in the building of the respective broadcasting companies they belong to, so fans can only watch the red carpet outside and wouldn’t be able to get in.

The best I have been to is the 2014 KBS Drama Awards Red Carpet because of the wide area outside the KBS building (yes, the one with a lot of stairs you see in the opening of 1N2D), so I was able to run from the red carpet entrance to the place where the artists get interviewed by the reporters, and back. As for SBS, all three of its award shows (and even the SBS Awards Festival) usually get held at COEX Mall in Gangnam which is a big mall and convention hall. Here, you may opt to stay indoors instead of waiting outside the mall entrance. Inside, there are three places you may choose to be in: the left side of the actual red carpet, the right side, and the side where the artists get interviewed.

On 2015, I have been staying on the left side and I actually had very good view but I kept on thinking how the fans from the right side have better view especially the ones who are on the side of the interview section. When I watched the 2016 SBS Music Awards, I decided to stay on the side of the interview section but it was a bad idea because although I was on the 2nd row, I ended up not seeing anything (same as all the other fans who were with me) because the journalists (who even had ladders and stool prepared) appeared and blocked our entire view. Good thing I was able to transfer immediately to the right side of the red carpet before the major artists arrive. So when choosing your place, take this into consideration.


GUIDE TO ACTUALLY WATCHING AN AWARD SHOW LIVE

Applying for or buying a ticket
Music Awards are the easiest shows to get in to, actually I’ve only been to these shows so far. This is because Drama and Entertainment Shows are more intimate and formal (as you can see with the minimal fans’ shouts and cheers in these shows) than the Music Award shows. MBC, KBS, and SBS usually post signups of tickets for the Award Shows for fans on their websites but you would need the help of a Korean friend for this because: first, it is written purely in Korean (except SBS who has a foreigner-friendly option), and more importantly, you need to have a Korean phone number/address. Also, do note that there is a really small chance of getting picked because of the large amount of fans that sign up every year.

So your last retort is to buy from scalpers. You may search who are selling online beforehand through Twitter by searching #양도표 (which literally means “giving away a ticket”) and making a tweet with the name of the award shows. This was my tweet last December for the 2016 SBS Music Awards because I was this desperate to watch BigBang and SECHSKIES live lol:

 

 

But you would need to negotiate in Korean for this since you would be talking with Koreans, and you’re not sure if you’re talking to a scammer or not. Some people actually messaged me and were selling me tickets for 400,000 to 700,000 KRW (400 to 700 USD) which is a crazy price for tickets that they got for free in the first place.

If you really want to watch an event, I suggest you go early to the event location instead and wait for the scalpers to appear. Usually, scalpers are scattered (literally, some would sell discreetly and some sell the tickets right in front of the guards) outside the event venue during the day itself. Prices are within 50,000 to 100,000 KRW (50~100 USD), which I wouldn’t mind paying, to be honest, because you’d get to see at least 10 artists perform anyway. My friends and I actually got our tickets for the 2015 KBS Music Awards from a scalper outside the event for 50,000 KRW each. And yes, they approach foreigners with a higher price. So I suggest you bring a Korean friend, or if you don’t have one, wear a mask. Or just do anything to conceal being a foreigner, and speak confidently in Korean.


So that’s it for now! If you have further questions (like what to say to scalpers and other important stuff), don’t hesitate to comment them below and I’ll do my best to be of help! 🙂

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With love,