(Recording Academy Trustee Ruby Marchand is among the delegates participating in A2IM's Trade Mission to Asia. The mission originated from an A2IM/Recording Academy Indie Day on Capitol Hill in 2010 that resulted in a government grant for the trade initiative. Her blog will document her experiences representing The Recording Academy as the mission travels from Seoul to Hong Kong in an effort to increase exports by small- and medium-sized independent music businesses based in New York and Tennessee.)
Saturday, Sept. 8:
We woke up energized on an overcast Saturday morning in Korea. A2IM had arranged for a guided bus tour of Seoul, which many of us didn't want to miss. It was a historic tour, rather than a shopping tour, and as none of us had ever visited Seoul before — even for the veterans among us, who've visited Asia many times, it was strongly appealing.
We visited a small but symbolically significant Buddhist temple in the heart of the city and then went on to the sprawling grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Built in 1395, the palace served for centuries as the center of royal, cultural, legislative, and economic life in Korea. Situated on almost 240 acres, the palace is perfectly positioned from a feng shui point of view among the small mountains that dot Seoul's perimeter. Our guide explained several elements of the architecture as warding off evil spirits. He told us that shamanism is still a powerful force in Korean culture and is very much ingrained in a society that's otherwise extraordinarily modern. Destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592, reconstructed 300 years later and then torn down during the Japanese occupation, about 40 percent of the royal compound survives through restoration. Our guide's recounting of long periods of Japanese occupation interspersed with long periods of isolation gave us new insight into Korean society. And less than an hour away from Seoul lies the DMZ (the demilitarized zone), which is never far from the minds of Koreans on both sides of the border.
We flew into Shanghai that afternoon. Jean Hsiao Wernheim and her amazing team from the Shanghai Synergy Culture and Entertainment Group, our Chinese hosts, welcomed us at the airport and whisked us off to an early dinner. We were delighted to walk in on a cacophonous wedding party at the restaurant until the thick cigarette smoke wafting through the building forced us to retreat to private dining rooms. Peering out at the city from our bus window, we were struck by the non-stop cement pouring on the streets, even late at night. Power and energy are significant factors in this city. As soon as you leave the magical aura of skyscrapers casting their glow on the Bund, each illuminated with a distinctive array to carve out its unique personality, the rest of the city is subject to pools of darkness and dimly-lit streets. The extremes of Shanghai — from local street markets and rubbish-littered side streets to high-rise residential abodes and the almost celestial presence of the commercial towers — are evocative and overwhelmed us on the first day.
By now, our group of indie labels, Dept. of Commerce and N.Y. state reps and I are calling ourselves "family." We have such warmth and respect for each other. If I meet with a local music maker whose expertise might be of interest to a participating label, I make sure the introduction is made (and vice versa). I get ribbed regularly by the team because the only English word everyone in Asia seems to know is "GRAMMY!"