1. Dancing, lots of dancing

By the time I arrived at the festival last Saturday around 1 p.m., it seemed a full-on dance party had gotten started in front of the stage at Center City Park. Girls and boys of all ages, mostly teenagers though, twisted and shouted as a DJ, who was obscured by the throng of dancers, led them in rhythm. K-pop dance beats melded into each other until “Gangnam Style” began blasting through the speakers, causing others on the outskirts of the crowd to lift up their arms and gallop along to the 2012 anthem. Later in the day, traditional Korean dancers took the stage but not before a rapper performed, repeatedly shouting at the audience, “Who got the swag?”

A dancer on stage at the 2019 NC Korean festival. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

2. Rice-paddy hats

Much like the music, which blared throughout the afternoon, it was almost impossible to ignore the dozens of people of all ages and races, who walked around the park adorning these conical straw hats. As an Asian-American, I was initially taken aback by the presence of the weird, racist stereotyping accessory. When I finally tracked down the vendor selling them, I found an older Asian couple behind the table, convincing anyone who would stop to spend seven bucks on the hat. Like one of my Asian acquaintances at the festival noted, I guess as long as it’s Asian people profiting off it and not white folks, it’s fine?

These are weird, right? (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

3. Super G Mart and H Mart

As a longtime resident of Greensboro and North Carolina as a whole, I pretty much know the best Asian grocery stores to go to in any given major city. In Greensboro for example, we’ve got Li Ming’s on Gate City and then Super G, which most people seem to prefer, on Market. A few years ago, H Mart opened in Cary, complete with a decked-out food court. At this year’s Korean Festival, both G and H Mart acted as sponsors, which makes sense given that most Asians I know shop at one or both. And if you haven’t been to either, what are you doing?

A boy plays the “how good are you at using chopsticks? game” at one of the activities tables. P.S. I could crush you at that game. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

4. BTS

Another cultural phenomenon that graced the festival was the pronounced presence of BTS paraphernalia. Posters with the boys’ faces and logo flew from several of the vendors tents. The boy band, which formed in 2013, has grown immensely in popularity over the years, so much so that Time included them on their list of 100 most influential people of 2019. According to a BBC article, along with Ariana Grande and Drake, BTS boosted global music sales to $19 billion in 2018. Now that I think about it, it’s strange that there weren’t more BTS tents there.

5. Food

My favorite part of any festival has got to be the food. And even more so when it’s an Asian festival. Asian food has a lot of roots in street food so you know that there’s going to be some good shit when you attend a big event like this, and the Korean Festival did not disappoint. Unfortunately, some of the vendors had actually run out of items by the time I got to them. Still, attendees could choose from about half a dozen stalls selling items like bibimbap, cup noodles, seafood pajeon, japchae (which I unfortunately missed), kimchi tuna buns and more. I guess there’s always next year. And for those that can’t wait, try any of the Korean joints in town. They’re pretty damn good.

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