I’ve been making a concentrated effort to get out of the house more over the last few weeks and out of town on the weekends. There is so much to see in this country alone, much less the rest of Asia, so I need to take advantage while I’m here. The last two weekends have offered up unique opportunities in the form of cultural events- the Jinju Lantern Festival and the Andong Mask Dance Festival.
The first was located about 45 minutes away in Jinju- a small city located next to a winding river which was the setting for the lantern festival. The river itself was filled with large light-up structures with a couple of temporary pedestrian bridges running through them.
Jinju has a nice promenade on both sides of the river with plenty of space for vendor tents, statues, and large crowds taking it all in, and on the hills leading down to the river were displays of all types with larger lanterns scattered throughout.
Outside of this temporary display, Jinju also features an attractive “fort” perched on the river bluffs encircling a park that would have been a pleasure to stroll through even without the various lanterns that also dotted it. I certainly wouldn’t object to spending another couple of twilight hours exploring it further sometime in the future.
After making and sending off a paper lantern myself,
and taking a walk through an impressive tunnel of light,
we got to the main event. By 8:30 the concourses beside the river were packed with people, which made getting a vantage point difficult. The big attraction was the fireworks display that started soon after, which, coupled with the colorful displays on the river and the hundreds of lanterns floating between them, was an eye-popping sight.
The next weekend I was off to the “cultural capital of Korea”, Andong, with a bus full of middle schoolers on an overnight field trip. Outside of eat, and eat, and eat all sorts of regional specialties (which I’ll cover in more detail when I’ve tried enough things to tackle a Korean cuisine post) we bounced around the area seeing the various local sites of interest.
The main reason for the trip was the Hahoe Maskdance, in which actors reinact traditional dramas using elaborate masks and broad slapstick. I can see the universal themes that are supposed to be underlying the dances, but they were mostly playing for comedy and honestly I didn’t get much out of it besides the obvious touristy nature of it all.
I much more enjoyed traveling to the various old landmarks in the area and discussing its history with the students and teachers. The hilly, green valley Andong is set in was a leading center of Buddhist learning and thought in the Josan dynasty (1392-1910), and we visited several temples, my favorite of which was Dosan Seowon (lecture hall). Korea’s preeminent scholar, Toegye Lee Hwang, taught there in the late 1500s and besides the beautiful traditional architecture,
I was most impressed by the auxiliary examination hall, which became a spot of quintessentially Oriental beauty when the construction of a dam surrounded it with shallow water. A crane flew by as I was pondering the sight, sealing it as a singularly gorgeous emblem of the best of my time in Korea so far.