Festivals and Thanksgiving Korean Style
Sep 24, 2010
David Rich 600 Words
1200 Korean Won = $1 US
Festivals and Thanksgiving Korean Style
Besides its incredibly copasetic people the magnet that has repeatedly drawn me to South Korea is its phenomenally colorful festivals, a series of family-style Carnivals that constitute my favorites on the planet.
The best of the best is the Andong Mask Dance Festival held yearly in late September to early October, a two-week extravaganza I discovered in 2005 and re-visited in 2010. Andong was founded in 57 B.C.E., well before Europeans progressed to the dark ages, now a town of 100,000 with grand international connections. The annual Mask Dance festival explodes in eight venues ranging from classical outdoor theaters to a cliff side riverbank in a pine forest 15 miles (24 km) south of town in Hahoe Village, where it all began in the 14th century.
Events run the gamut from Tae Kwan Do exhibitions, beauty pageants and goofy television personalities to sparkling dance troupes from all over Asia and the Americas plus hilarious Korean mask dances requiring no translation whatsoever.
Traditional Korean dances are performed behind expressive masks with crooked mouths and bulging features ranging from blank to demure representing traditional characters such as the wise woman, corrupt monk, potbellied rich man, damsel in distress, village drunk and town clown. The story lines evolved out of peasant frustration with the uppity noble class. In the 1300s a craftsman made a mask satirizing an indolent landowner, combined it with a stylized dance and thereby marked the beginning of the mask dance as an integral fabric of Korean society, perpetually mocking the establishment.
The local dances are complemented by splashy international dance troupes costumed to shame Carnival in Rio. On my first visit I was bedazzled by spectaculars from Taiwan, Turkey and Venezuela and on the current trip by mind-boggling skits and costumes from Thailand, Singapore, China and Mexico, unfortunately missing presentations by Mongolia and Malaysia.
The dance extravaganzas are sandwiched among hundreds of booths selling Korean gadgets and gizmos, restaurants with offerings from ginseng and squid to mackerel and Korean pancakes and exhibits from mask-making for the kids to dress-up and be photographed for adults and kids alike.
Thanksgiving/Chuseok in South Korea is its most glorious countrywide celebration, three days when families reunite, visit ancestral graves and dress in the gorgeous pastel rainbow hanboks of yesteryear, particularly the cuter-than cutesy children.
The five main palaces in Seoul were jam-packed with costumed locals in a celebratory mood for Chuseok but my favorite was the Royal Palace of Gwanhwamun in the center of Seoul, sprawling over 10 square blocks of antiquity including a large reflecting lake flanked by ornate temples, ferocious guards brandishing dangerously curved scimitars on a stick and locals posing for photos most everywhere with everyone, including embarrassed ferocious guards.
The best part about the Andong Mask Dance Festival and the Thanksgiving celebrations is their timing, usually in mid to late September and early October, Fall when the weather is the best in South Korea; after the sweltering and monsoonish summer and before the cold windy winters. Springtime is equally fine for festivals of food, culture and flowers: http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=957144, though none can match traditional Thanksgiving or the fabulous mask dance festival in Andong.
When you check out Korean Festivals: Andong is three hours by luxury bus from Seoul, tariff $20. Every Korean town offers motels near its train and bus stations, most spiffy with computers and internet, flat screen televisions, sumptuous bathrooms and many mirrors, aka love motels with rooms between $32 and $43 a night. For the Andong Mask Dance Festival see www.maskdance.com. Also generally see http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto