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The Namdo food festival

The Namdo food festival


It’s often been mentioned to me that when it comes to Korean culinary delights Jeollanamdo is the best province in Korea, so this year I resolved to visit the Namdo food festival taking place at Nagan folk village. This was a chance I thought to savour some flavours all in the confines of the picturesque Nagan folk village. I think before I went I had visions of market stalls and lots of food you could sample for free, so I was in for a disappointment when this failed to be there. I’d have to say the festival side of things left me distinctly underwhelmed. It’s true that all the charm of the village was still there, but I’ve seen this on more than one occasion now and wanted more.
What they did have there was the chance to see several Korean chefs complete with each other to make a regional specialty, and afterwards a chance for the general public to eat some of the creations. Also there were restaurants scattered around the village each with a name of a town in Jeollanamdo complete with that towns local specialty, now that’s where I’m really looking to see a few free food samples. The festival also had the obligatory stage with a few trout old timers from yesteryear belting out the songs they no doubt sang the year before and the year before that (Ok this might be generalising a tad). In case anyone doesn’t know trout it’s basically Dad rock and usually makes my students laugh when it gets mentioned. At a food festival you’re looking for nicely displayed food, and this was there as well, but we had to wait in line for the chance to see the cling film covered works of food art.
The day was saved by the village itself, which never fails to disappoint. I was even given some free crockery by a Korean man who was impressed with my crystal ball photography!

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The Korean grand prix

F1 comes to Korea! This event has been a few years in the offing, and indeed it’s located quite close to where I live in Korea so going to the event was a no-brainer. A friend of mine at the local expat bar had done all the organising for me, and a few friends who’d come down from Seoul. The 2 friends were Eddie “racing girls” Vasquez and Mike.

After an early start for all of us (I don’t do 7am on a Saturday morning) we were on the bus and on our way to a minbak located at the base of Wolchusan. Wolchusan is a beautiful mountain, one I hiked last year…. That is for another post though. After arriving at the minbak we went to get some food… I’d really rather have gone directly to the track, and in hindsight I wish I’d stuck to my guns. After the meal we went to the park and ride picking up point, and waited to be picked up. This was when things began to unravel, and we’d arrived 80 minutes early as well. I think while we were waiting I’d joked that perhaps the were still constructing the stands as we waited and that was why no buses were sent to pick us up, if only my joke wasn’t so near the mark. Around 40 minutes into our wait for a bus that was supposed to appear at 20 minute intervals Jose got the call that no bus was going to come, so we ended up having to walk. This was one black mark against the organisers of this event, I wasn’t happy. At this point it gets very easy to blame Korea and Koreans for not getting there finger out and doing a proper job of organising a major event, though of course our knight is a shining in Kia was to come to our rescue. I think we’d been walking for about 20 minutes when the much more positive side of Korea came in the form of an act of kindness from a passing motorist who picked us up and took us to the track. There in the space of a couple of sentences is a reminder of what is so great about Korea, and what isn’t…. I still do wish that the act of kindness wasn’t needed, but that’s because I want the outside world to see Korea as an organised and efficient country (like it usually is).

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Well we got to the track with qualifying already 10 minutes old, so now it was a case of getting to our seats asap. Once inside it took us 20 minutes to get to our stand were a polite young Korean told us that our stand was closed because it failed a safety check, well that was awesome and another black mark against the organisers. We got directed to another stand and finally got to see around 30 minutes of the qualifying. I have to say that as I looked around the stand we were in I’m surprised it passed a safety check as there were chairs not fastened to the stand and jagged metal edges that could cause a nasty injury if someone tripped.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty good. We took some photos of the cars flying past us, the noise was also pretty amazing. Where we were sat we couldn’t see that much of the action, there was a giant TV screen in front of us though, so that helped. The red bulls really dominated qualifying and it was Sebastian Vettel who was top of the pile going into tomorrows race, the question was would he remain there. The speed laps over Myself, Eddie and Mike set off to explore the rest of the track, always keeping a eye out for those elusive racing girls (for Eddie naturally). We walked around to the main grandstand, this part of the track had been finished, and looked pretty good to me…. Though with tickets selling for 1000$ there would have been a riot if it hadn’t been finished properly. We soon realised there was a chance to have a look around the paddock and get some autographs. After waiting in line for our turn we decided not to bother with the autographs, but I did get a photo of Alonso and his teammate Massa. The pit lane and paddock area was pretty cool, it was nice to see up close some of the work going on in these teams, and you could take photos as well, albeit from a distance. I wish I’d taken the chance to chat to some of these teams mechanics, I found out later they’d been stuck in the love motels with some bad stories making there way to the press… I suppose love motels is a rather unfortunate name for what are good budget motels, but Formula 1 is used to 4 star hotels I suspect.

When we left the track we had more issues with shuttle buses, but by now this just didn’t come as a surprise so I’ll not dwell. We met some nice Korean guys though and went for a meal with them in the nearby town of Mokpo, before heading back to our Minbak.

The day of the race came and we all wanted to get to the track earlier this time, no one wanted to repeat the mistake of the day before so we all got taxi’s to the track itself. Our stands were still not deemed safe so our tickets were bumped up to some other stands, we settled on a stand that had a pretty good view of the circuit, and once the race got underway we weren’t disappointed. Well the rain started to come down before that, so we had a wet race on our hands (something I’d hoped for to perhaps make a more interesting race). The race started behind the pace car, and we lost a good proportion of the real race to safety concerns….. a hangover of only finishing the track weeks before it was needed (another black mark…. Sadly yes). Once the race started it was great though, enough drama and excitement to keep things interesting. The safety car gone and we were off! A cheer went up from our stand and you keep feel a palpable sense of excitement as we were all about to witness F1 racing in the flesh for the first time. It took 2 laps for the first retirement.  It was drama as race and championship leader made a mistake and off he went, I think he collected Timo Glock as he went off as well. With this retirement it was time for another period with the safety car, and I have to be honest the track wasn’t draining the water and certain areas were getting puddles. Indeed during the initial safety car period the race was stopped completely, and we were speculating they might postpone it (this would have been hugely embarrassing). Once the race finally got underway at what was the third time of asking we saw a battle at the front between Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. Things were delicately poised, with the winner of the race having the chance to take the championship lead, stakes could not be higher at this stage of the season. It looked like Vettel had it in the bag, but with the light fading his engine blew up on him. We saw from our stand a pretty dejected looking Vettel get out of his car on a bad weekend for the red bull team. Alonso now raced away from a fading Hamilton to win the race and take a perhaps commanding lead in the world championship. Our friend Jose who is from Spain, and also the town of Alonso’s birth was unsurprisingly excited. It does seem to be the year of Spain on the sporting front.

We got another lift back to the park and ride area from the circuit and it was back to Suncheon for me. Eddie and Mike went back to Seoul. The question I didn’t answer… did we track down the racing girls? Yes, but only briefly, so I think Eddie was happy with that.

I hope next year this track is properly finished and allows Korea to really shine. It was a great race though, and perhaps that IS what people will remember. People can quickly remember the bad things though, and Korea needs to be ready next time.

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Peter visits Suncheon

I recently had my friend and English teacher trainer extraordinaire visit me in Suncheon to do some photography for an article he was making about Suncheon bay. I’ve been to the bay on many occasions, and it has to be said for many foreigners the experience is distinctly underwhelming given the build up the place is given. I’ve grown to really love and appreciate this little piece of nature about 30 minutes outside of my town of residence, not least because I’ve got some very nice photos from there. I’ve always felt I’ve missed out on seeing a really good sunset from this park, you could certainly say I’ve been very much underwhelmed by the sunsets up there. That was all about to change with this particular visit. I just knew it would be this way as well…. Me visiting this place quite a few times and seeing the sun disappear into the clouds just as it was setting, and my friend who was visiting this place for the first time and hits the back of the net at the first time of asking. I should of course introduce my friend. He’s Peter DeMarco and hails from the US of A, but he currently calls Busan his home. He’s travelled around a fair bit though and did a fairly long stint in Barcelona before moving to Korea.

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Having just got back from Jinju that morning I met Pete in the afternoon got a bite to eat and then headed to the bay. We jumped onto the 67 bus and sat for about 30 minutes as it trundled through the south Jeolla countryside, with rice fields on either side of us. When we arrived Pete was greeted with a site I think he wasn’t quite expecting, 100’s of people. It being a nice sunny day, and a weekend Suncheon bay was packed. The walkways that wind their way through the bay were like conveyor belts of people, and hardly the tranquil atmosphere I think my friend was expecting. As I told him though it gets better from the viewpoint on mount Young. They’ve done a lot of work on the bay in recent years, and the new path and additional features on the small mountain add something to the views I feel. The bay has several places you can stop and admire the view, though the best is still the last place. A testament to how popular this view is to Koreans was the legion of photographers already at the viewpoint a full 2 hours before sunset. We were lucky to get any kind of position to shoot the view at all, such was the crowd of tripods up there. The time passed fairly swiftly, I took a few photos of some wine glasses I’d brought up with me. The very best view though was to be after sunset, and after all the other photographers had packed up and gone home. I’d got chatting to a few Koreans while up at the observatory, whom I met a few days later in Suncheon for some BBQ duck, and jolly nice they were too. Anyway perhaps 20 minutes after the sun had disappeared the sky went pink and we witnessed a rather magical sunset. I’ve always thought really good sunsets need interesting cloud formations and this  was made more beautiful for just that reason.

Having got back to Suncheon we had an evening meal at Blank. I had my usual there, the honey mustard chicken sandwich aka the sandwich of kings! I really should explore the menu down there, just I love that sandwich. Pete followed suit and ordered the same as me. Blank is a little oasis of style in the centre of Suncheon, I hope one day that becomes a district. After eating we headed to San Antonio’s for a drink and chat with Jose, who was waxing lyrical about Dubai.

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Jinju lantern festival

Jinju is a town worth a visit at any time of the year. It’s located on the Namgang river, around 1 hour from Busan and 4 hours from Seoul. The towns main attraction is undoubtedly the castle that dominates the river bank close to the town centre. It is this castle and its interesting history that forms the backdrop to the yearly Lantern festival that occurs in Jinju.

During the lantern festival there are hundreds of floating lanterns on the Namgang river. Prior to coming to Asia lanterns floating gently downstream was something I thought I’d like to see. I’d also like to see lanterns that float up into the sky, but that will have to wait for another day.

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Why does Jinju have lanterns then? Well the historical significance of Lanterns in Jinju dates back to 1592.  With the Imjin war with the Japanese raging a siege was to take place at Jinju castle. 3000 brave Korean soldiers faced Japans 20000 invasion force. Under the general Shi-min Kim the Koreans gained a great victory over the Japanese, a victory where the odds where heavily stacked against them. It was during the siege that lanterns were used as a form of communication, these lanterns were both floated along the river, and also put up in the air. The messages in these lanterns were used to communicate with loved ones, and pass important information to other armies outside of the castle who were fighting against the Japanese. It must be said though this victory was short lived as 1 year later the Japanese returned this time with an enormous army of 100000, which overwhelmed the defending Koreans, resulting in the deaths of 70000. Today lanterns are floated down the river in sad remembrance of those who lost their lives that day.

The festival features lanterns of all shapes and sizes, as well as the small floating lanterns there are also much larger lanterns on the river. The lanterns are divided into a few different areas. There is an area which features lanterns showing other countries cultures for instance some Russian matroiska dolls.  Then there are lanterns that celebrate famous Koreans, and finally a section dedicated to the soldiers who once fought here. You can have a little hands on experience as well, because it’s possible to make your own lantern in one of the tents near the river, and then float your new creation down the river.

If you’re hungry after a walk up and down the river there are plenty of temporary restaurants along the river serving a selection of Korean food.

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Andong mask festival

Wearing masks to ward off spirits, or hide amongst spirits in a custom prevalent in more than 1 culture, how many of us have dressed up and used masks at Halloween? In South Korea the culture and history of the mask is celebrated once a year in the town of Andong, and the nearby folk village of Hahoe (pronounced Ha – Hway).

The tradition of mask dance in Korea goes back centuries, and was used in shamanistic rituals. In the village of Hahoe the tradition of mask dancing goes back centuries and is preserved today by a mask dance team that performs “Mudong Madang”  a dance where people make offering for health and wealth to a female goddess. This troupe then performs a second act called “chuji madang” where an abundant harvest is promised, and this is finished with a dancer chasing away demons and evil spirits. The stage has now been sanctified, and other acts follow.

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The festival also features performers from across Korea, and around the world. The international flavour is given to this event by performers who come from China, Mexico, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Thailand. Performance by these groups are scattered across Andong and Hahoe, and are performed several times over the course of the week long festival. The main festival site also offers people the chance to make there own mask, enjoy a fashion show with naturally dyed garments, and watch some younger mask dance performers in action.

I felt for me the real charm of the area is the Hahoe folk village itself, and it’s little surprise to me that when foreign dignatories including the Queen of England and a former US president visited Korea they came here. The first thing to note is the stunning location on a bend in the Nakdong river, with the imposing Pyungdae rock face on the side of the river the villagers who have lived in this village all there lives are clearly blessed. Indeed the village has produced a former Korean prime minister, his name was Ryu Seongryong .

As well as all the mask dance performances that take place in Hahoe, with a lot of the performers making the trip from Andong itself, the high point of the festival is the Seonyujubul Nori. Seonyujubol Nori is something rather special to behold, and is a fire play performed on a boat along the river Naktong. In the past the custom was for poets to write poems and once one of these was finished people would shout “drop the fires”. Today there is just the one boat on the river with several people dressed in Hanbok serenading the watching crowd. The custom of dropping bundles of fire from the top of the cliff is still carried out as well. The true magic is perhaps provided by the traditional fireworks. Where western fireworks are all over in a flash and a bang these fireworks really romance the crowds as they drop little sparkles of fire rain on the river and beach for perhaps an hour. The fireworks are suspended across the river on for sets of wire which rather resemble a huge washing line. Once lit you can stand between these wire and have sparks fall either side of you, and yes it really does feel like fire rain.

Transport

From Seoul catch the intercity bus from the Dong Seoul bus terminal – (Travel Time: 3 hours / First bus: 06:00 / Last bus: 23:00 / Departure every 20-30 minutes / Regular fare: 16,400-18,000won)

On arrival in Andong you’ll find a large festival site about 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal, and 15 minutes from the train station. Those who want to head onto Hahoe village need to cross the road and find the 46 bus, which takes 40 minutes to get to the village.

 

Accomadation

 

Andong

Accomadations is fairly easy to find. The Andong park tourist hotel is 50000w a night, and is a 10 minutes walk from the bus station. There are also plenty of motels between the bus station and the tourist hotel.

 

Hahoe

If you go to Hahoe you can stay over night at the village in one of the minbaks. Call the Travel Phone (+82-54-852-3588, +82-54-840-6974) for reservations.

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