(Photo credit: Aubrey)
November 2014 was a fruitful time to create new projects. I decided not to renew my contract in South Korea. I decided to return to the US to pursue a career. I decided that I was going to solo travel through Southeast Asia. I was a tiny bit nervous about where the money was going to come from to fund all these things when a friend said, “find a way to make some extra money.”
I had realized by then that teaching wasn’t for me and was asking myself what made me unequivocally happy. The only answer was singing. “I know,” I told my friend, “I’m going to busk for my meals in Southeast Asia.” I googled it and discovered that other people had thought of this before and had managed to make their way around the world busking.
Now, I’m not sure if I’ll be busking for my meals in Southeast Asia (I’ve saved enough money I can do without), but busking became firmly lodged in my fancies. I’m the kind of person who walks around singing randomly anyway, I might as well make a formal gig of things. I’ve come so recently in life to becoming a singer, I’m still in awe that people might derive some pleasure from hearing my voice. And I do love making people happy.
The first order of business was choosing an instrument to accompany my voice. I had just sold my guitar and now I was turning around to buy a ukulele. Unlike the guitar, I could imagine taking it with me on my travels. I had a Korean friend help me buy a bright red Makala Dolphin from the Internet. It’s a beauty (and to think I almost didn’t buy the red one!) and proved to be cheaper, smaller, and easier to play than the guitar.
Despite its comparative ease to the guitar, playing the ukulele was the same struggle of staying motivated and not getting mired in “I suck” land. Loathed to go alone, I had started to float the idea of busking to some of my friends and a few wanted to do it. So I aimed to go busking in Busan during the Seollal holiday (Lunar New Year), roughly 2.5 months after I bought my ukulele. And the pressure got to me.
I barely played during December. I put in some time while I was vacationing in the Philippines and quickly cracked a few Taylor Swift songs. Taylor Swift, as it turns out, is super easy.
January proved to be a sinkhole for the ukulele. It was a crash and burn month, over all. But I brought it with me to Seoul and Jeju. And I was still strangely interested in going busking in Busan during Seollal.
The final push came from my team in DC. My coach told me to start stringing actions together so I did. I asked for accountability partners on facebook and someone answered: I created a ten day plan to practice the ukulele for a total of two hours a day. Actual practice time didn’t work out to two hours (more like one per day) but the important part was that I was playing and I was enjoying myself again. My cousin had given me some tips on how to practice and learn (namely, to break up my sessions into twenty minute chunks) and it made a huge difference. Things were still far from perfect (and I barely had anything memorized) but they say to start before you’re ready and that’s what I was doing. I was starting before I was ready.
I asked facebook again for people to come busking with me and people answered. I bussed to Haeundae Beach and met up with a friend from EPIK Orientation who taught in Seoul. He brought his guitar, cajon and a couple of friends.
To be honest, we didn’t so much busk as have a jam session on the beach. My friend and I alternated songs: my “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” for his Death Cab for Cutie. While we weren’t formal about it, we did have a lot of curious onlookers. A couple even approached us to make a song request. We had no idea what the husband asked for, but I busted out the only Korean song I could do to their delight.
I can only conclude that people really do like buskers. I’m still feeling a bit shy about it (we didn’t have a hat out for money), but it was a very heartening experience and I’m definitely looking forward to doing more. My next goal is to do some busking on my trip to Kyoto.
Thanks to Wayne, Greg, Anne, and David for keeping me motivated. Thanks to my cousin Ben for the ukulele learning tips. Thanks to Charles and his friends for coming out with me!
[This post was originally published on February 25, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]