Thursday, November 17, 2011

Festival Trifecta

You may be thinking, "Another post about festivals? Isn't that what they talked about yesterday?" If you are not thinking this then chances are you have lived in Korea. There is a festival nearly every weekend here and because Korea is roughly the size of Indiana we are able to go to whichever ones we want. And today is your lucky day, because now you can go to whichever ones we want too!

Besides the Mask Festival we have been to three others: Drum, Dance and Lantern. Of the three the Drums were most interactive. We went with our good friends, Matt and Carly Haas. As you can see we took full advantage of the interactive environment:

At one point we even took lessons! Here is us with our dear instructor:

The festival took place in Seoul Plaza, it was like an oasis in the center of the big city. Children played.

Meanwhile, we practiced our dance moves.

But by far the coolest part was one of the amateur drum groups, at one point they leapt from the stage and did some water drumming, it was amazing!

Overall, the Drum Festival was a huge success and made us feel very involved. The International Dance Festival, though lacking in interactivity, was abundant in culture and history. It was held at the beautiful Samgeori Park in Cheonan. Our first attempt to attend was thwarted by our lack of knowledge regarding the Cheonan bus routes and reluctance to take a taxi. On the second try, after doing some intense internet research, we discovered that a bus we take nearly everyday (shout-out to Bus 12!) ends up at Samgeori Park.

I had a schedule with me that was translated from Korean by one of my students. Activities included "Foreigner Wedding", "Parade", and "Old People Dance". After spending some time wandering around the park and watching the "Old People Dance" we made our way to the main stage. Apparently, the event we stumbled upon was a competition for residents of Cheonan only. Of the many performances I believe my favorite was a group of middle-aged women dressed as pirates dancing to "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried...

Aside from the spectacular swashbuckler performance, one other stands out in my mind as particularly interesting. But in order to fully enjoy this anecdote, you will need a brief history lesson. For those of you who have been following our blog, you will remember that a few months back we visited Independence Hall, a museum commemorating Korea's fight for independence under Japanese occupation. Japan's rule over Korea from 1910 until 1945 included cultural suppression, torture, murder, forced labor, and the abduction of women to be used as "comfort women" in military brothels by the Japanese in WWII. Recently, there has been some controversy revolving around a small island in between the two countries called Dokdo Island. When I say small, what I mean is the island has a permanent population of TWO people. The remaining 30 inhabitants are military stationed to protect the island. At one time, Japan sent emissaries to Korea to "give" them the island, but Korea refused to let them past the airport gate and sent them back to Japan because Japan can't give them something they already own. Needless to say, current relations between Japan and Korea are tense.

Dokdo Island: Population 2 Koreans
Now that you have some context we can come back to the dance. The performers were all Korean students, and they chose to do an interpretive sword dance. It begins with a group of Koreans happily going about their business, waving Korean flags. Then suddenly a group of Japanese soldiers rush in and begin shooting, stabbing and rounding people up for slavery. At one point a Japanse soldier snatches the Korean flag and stomps on it. After a few minutes of demonstrated Japanese oppression, two Korean men dressed in black and wielding swords fight and kill the Japanese soldiers, leaving Korea to be free at last. To end the spectacle they pulled a HUGE banner (Korea is really into banners) over the stage that said: "DID YOU KNOW? DOKDO IS KOREAN TERRITORY!".

Did anyone else notice the banner is in English, not Korean? I have a theory on this. Now keep in mind, this is an international dance festival where multiple Japanese dance groups are performing. Also noteworthy, both the Japanese and Korean governments are pouring money into English programs (hence my current employment with the City of Cheonan Dept of Education). So I pose that they did not want the banner to be in Korean because then the Japanese attendees would not get the message. But they certainly weren't going to make the banner in Japanese lest the other hundreds of people not get the message. Well here's from me to you, Korean student sword dancers, message received.

So the last festival is the Lantern Festival, we actually just attended this festival five days ago in Seoul. It was so wonderful and breathtaking that I think I'll just let it speak for itself.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed today's installment of hold onto your butts blog week. ^^ *

*Korean smiley face


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