My KG: Chihoon Jeong: Boston — Brooklyn (NYC) — Buenos Aires — Bishkek
GO KG's My KG section continues to introduce guests from different parts of the world telling us more about their time and experience in Kyrgyz Republic. We've already had a chance to ask some questions to Olivier Le Blanc, international development and humanitarian affairs expert from Montreal now living in Bishkek. Or Mohamed Elbangy, 24-year-old student from Egypt, who has traveled throughout Kyrgyz Republic. Last time it was Alex Johnson, a former Peace Corps volunteer, who has made a significant contribution to the development of tourism in the Kyrgyz Republic.
In case with Chihoon Jeong, who is from Korea, it is really difficult to decide what to start with. Even his personal website seems not to cover all of his sides. He says he wanted to do everything since he was a kid. This is why it is better to start with Chicken Star, the art restaurant, which combined all his passions.
Chihoon first came to the Kyrgyz Republic in November, 2014. The first thing he noted was the colors of the clothes everybody around was wearing — dark gray, black or brown. Chihoon was wearing a bright orange jacket and his uncle's was red. And while in Korea he felt absolutely normal in that orange jacket, here he stuck out. This was not the only thing to surprise Chihoon — more things were coming, one of them even allowed him to start a business. Diversity of nationalities was another thing to amaze Chihoon — for some reason he was expecting the country to be more like Afghanistan or Pakistan thanks to 'stan'. And the list went on — Chihoon was also amazed by the amount of cars for such a small Bishkek, young marriages, which are common and the number of parks and trees in Bishkek.
But one thing, which amazed Chihoon, eventually turned into a business. There was not a single Korean chicken restaurant in town. This is how Chicken Star restaurant appeared in Bishkek. The place is unique not only thanks to Korean menu items, but because it unites all passions of Chihoon, who is an artist, a tango dancer and a photographer. Chicken Star is not only about the food for Chihoon. The place supports artists — both established and young. The first receive a space for their exhibitions and the second — an entire art residence, where they can create. Chihoon thinks supporting young talents is very important — this is why he gave up a VIP room in his restaurant for an arts residence. There are also weekly Argentinian tango events, where Chihoon teaches visitors how to dance tango himself. And Saturdays are 'open mic' days when young artists can perform in Chicken Star.
Tango and Painting
While majority of Bishkek citizens know Chihoon as an entrepreneur, he also has some other talents. He spent some time living in Buenos Aires. This is where he fell in love with tango. Now every Monday he teaches the visitors of his restaurant himself. His first experience of tango in Argentina amazed him so much. 'The relationship between dancing people is an ideal relationship. In order to dance tango very well you have to fully listen to your partner, understand your partner, wait for your partner and love your partner. That's like an ideal relationship. It's an illusion.' Chihoon has synesthesia — when he listens to music, he can see colors, which he converts into emotions and feelings.
This is the case when one of his passions led him to another — painting. He wanted to express his emotions and was asking himself about how he could do that. After trying to take photos he started painting. But that didn't feel right. One day he woke up and got an idea of using canvas as his milonga. It was too slippery in the very beginning, but the feeling was amazing according to Chihoon, right the one he was looking for. Chihoon has a unique painting technique — he dances on canvas moving to tango music. Having no professional education in arts, Chihoon says his art is from his experience, his life reflection. Sometimes he had to listen to a certain song for over 200 times before he could choose the right color. 'I always try to memorize a song with my body, not with my mind' says Chihoon. 'Because a body is more honest and your mind can distract you, lie to you, but your body cannot lie.'
Paintings of Chihoon often remind works by Jackson Pollock. He says he was influenced by him and Kandinsky. They were Chihoon's education, as he says himself. Pollock — stylistically and Kandinsky — color choice-wise. Chihoon was amazed by one of the Pollock's works during his visit to MoMA and felt emotions put into the painting. 'It was so powerful' recalls Chihoon. Another visit, this time to Guggenheim museum is worth mentioning too — while his friends were fast looking at the collection of Kandinsky's works, Chihoon took his time writing down every color he could define — he was amazed with colors.
Chihoon took millions of photos of people dancing tango, as he says. That was back when he was trying to express his emotions, which he finally started expressing through painting. He didn't study photography either. Chihoon's way to photography is quite unusual. Once he was studying human conflicts and suffering when an article came to his sight about Costa Rica. It said the happiest people lived there. Chihoon couldn't help himself going there. He met his friend from Korea there, a professional photographer, who was surprised Chihoon was travelling with no camera. 'Back then, being a student, I thought photography was an expensive hobby' recalls Chihoon. His friend gave him his spare camera and Chihoon loved taking photos. The same friend helped Chihoon buy his own camera later.
Street photography is how Chihoon defines his style. He explains that he was always interested in people and this is why he ended taking photos of them, not anything else.
Boston — Brooklyn (NYC) — Buenos Aires — Bishkek
A lot of people think Chihoon has many friends, which is not true. He is always surrounded with people, but he says he is a quite person. Sometimes even lonely, as he says, which is a total opposite for the impression he makes. Usually he has very limited free time and Chihoon says he tries to use that for reading, drawing and thinking.
When Chihoon was 14, he almost died. He spent two weeks in an ICU unit because of the bee stings allergy. 'When you're 14, you don't think about death' says Chihoon. 'You think about how to get Nike shoes or Adidas ball'. As Chihoon says, the doctor told his dad there was a 50% chance to survive. The situation led Chihoon to asking questions about what life and death were. This is why he ended up studying religions in college. This also made him value every day and try to do his best in everything he does. Maybe this is why Chihoon has so many talents.
Before moving to Bishkek in February, 2015, Chihoon used to live in other places starting with a 'B' — Boston, Brooklyn and Buenos Aires. Bishkek somehow combined passions of Chihoon — his passion for tango, painting and art is reflected in his art restaurant. Chihoon says he would like to keep traveling though he will settle one day. He wants to keep supporting young talents wherever he is because those are the ones to change the world.
His next step is to explore the Kyrgyz Republic better. There is a number of places he really wants to pay a visit to. He even didn't have time for the Issyk-Kul lake or any of the ski resorts. So far 100% of his activity was limited with Bishkek, which will stay special for Chihoon. This is the first city he has started business in. He also says he sees Bishkek as a city with a great potential for startups and education industry and the country as a country for ecotourism and organic food production. 'Kyrgyz Republic is very meaningful for me in a way that grew a lot, learned a lot including business. I really want to see Bishkek as a great city for startup community, as an educational city and the Kyrgyz Republic as an ecotourism country and high-quality organic food production country. Those things have huge potential. And if those four get together here, I honestly think the Kyrgyz Republic will be one of the best countries to live in.'
'Bishkek is like a blank canvas for me' says Chihoon. He means it is an opportunity and says every time he sees a blank canvas he is excited. He says he has made a small sketch during his time here and his is very curious about what he will be able to create eventually.