Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Color Me Rad

Left to right: Kaley, Tracey, Katelyn, Connor, Rachel, (another) Andrew, and me. Photo courtesy Katelyn
Why, hello there. You might be wondering about the photo above -- what happened? Did my friends and I fall into a garbage truck? Have we been painting murals? Did we somehow grow mold on our t-shirts while out for a run? Nah, none of those are nearly exciting enough.

Last weekend, I went to Incheon, a city way up north, next to Seoul, for an event known as a "color run". It's ostensibly a race. When I told my Korean friends I was doing a 달리기, they invariably replied, "Oh, a 마라톤/marathon?" Well, no, not quite that much. This one was just 5k. So, what made it special?

Answer: the "color" part*. During the race, participants are covered with colored powder -- literally as they are running -- various times, until they finish the race with their clothes, limbs, and faces tinted green, blue, pink, purple, and yellow! You start off with a clean white tee and finish looking like, well, like I do in these photos.

The Incheon race was organized by Color Me Rad, which has taken the event all around the U.S. and Canada, arriving in Asia just this past year. The $35 registration fee got me a t-shirt, a pair of sunglasses (to look cool and to protect my eyes at the same time!), and a chance to have a wild, crazy time with my friends.
Fellow Fulbrighters and me (yellow sunglasses) before we began! Look at how clean our skin and shirts are. Photo courtesy Katelyn
The race was really casual, actually. I mean, I've never done any kind of race before; this was my first 5k, so I wanted to make it count and, you know, actually run. Well, the hundreds of other participants -- most of them Korean -- didn't really feel the same way. So many people were just casually walking along the race route, only picking up their pace to a jog before they entered a "coloring" stop and pranced around while they got covered in more colored powder.

Oh, just rolling around in yellow powder, no big deal.
My friends and I were determined to get some exercise out of this and jogged almost the entire thing, stopping only for water at first. Then, we realized that our pace was actually preventing us from getting as colorful as we wanted to be! While sweating helped the color stick (as did generally being wet: I was intensely purplified when some dudes brought water guns, poured purple powder into the tanks, and went for it), running too quickly through the coloring stops did not. So we hung back and joined the crowds of people haphazardly flinging colored powder into everyone else's faces.

By the time we got to the yellow station, we were just looking for ways to get as messy as possible, not gonna lie. We rolled around on the ground to pick up more yellow. I did a colored powder angel. And at the last station, which was green, was chaos. You could just grab a handful of powder and smear it into somebody else's hair. All of us ended up quite green by the time we reached the finish line. And once there, hey! Free Vitamin Water and 물티슈. Thanks, corporate sponsors!
Fulbrighters at the finish line! Note the prevalence of green. Photo courtesy Katelyn
But that wasn't the end. Nope, the "run", stops and all, took no more than forty-five minutes. What did we do for the rest of the time? Take pictures and party! Up near the starting line, they had set up a stage and were blasting dance music, so of course everyone flocked to it.

The dance party! I had my phone in a plastic bag to protect it from the powder.
Some ladies up on stage led the crowd in awkwardly suggestive dances that they billed as "Sexy Zumba". After that, there was a performance by a member of the K-Pop old guard known as Brian Joo. Everything about him screamed, "Korean-American," but I enjoyed it.

Every so often, the MCs would toss packets of color powder into the crowd and do a "Color Countdown": on zero, everyone attack each other with colored powder! The end of the race definitely didn't mean the end of the messiness.

Also, someone had managed to get ahold of a fire extinguisher and had filled it with orange powder. When it was fired at the audience, people went crazy. We danced, jumped, screamed, fought for the freebies being thrown from the stage, and got progressively more and more caked with color. It was really overwhelming. I've never done anything quite like this color party, and I'm really, really happy that I did.

Andrew is caked in colored powder, and he is very happy.
After everything was over, it was time to clean up. I only tried to get the worst of it off my face before heading onto the subway with hundreds of other rainbow-colored racers. I figured a long, long shower afterward would suffice later. Well, my friends and I got a lot of stares on the subway, especially by the time we reached the center of Seoul and we were the only Shrek-look-alikes left. Walking around Hongdae in our colored state was also amusing. Inevitably, our feet led us to Fell+Cole, our favorite ice cream shop, and when we walked in the door, the owner (who is familiar with us by now) took one look and said, "Ohhh, I'm so jealous; they did the Color Me Rad!" (He had done it in San Francisco previously.)

The rest of the weekend was just as great: seeing Fulbrighters for the first time since the start of this semester (as well as catching up with a high school friend on her vacation!), drawing Pokemon together, devouring the banana bread pudding I baked, finding new great places for Hungry in Hongdae (Around the Corner for organic honey ice cream and Burger B for mouthwatering burgers), and introducing friends to AcousticHolic! It was everything I could ask for in a weekend in Seoul. Good times.
Above is a video I took with my cell phone of one of the "Color Countdowns". My phone was inside of a plastic bag coated in colored powder, so the quality is especially bad, but you can still tell how fun and crazy it all was!

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*I need to note here that the very recent rise in popularity of these color runs has touched off a not insignificant number of people of the Hindu tradition who are unhappy with the apparent "whitewashing" of their famous spring festival, Holi. While proponents of colors runs would argue that getting messy while running a race is innocent fun, the idea of colored powder as a sort of gimmick for a completely secular event -- without putting in a single word about its origin -- might very well be cultural appropriation. And it would be precisely the sort of appropriation that Koreans would have difficulty understanding, there not being the same history of White cultural hegemony in this country as we have in the U.S. Just food for thought.

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