The Seoul Fringe Festival, smaller in both size and fame than its Edinburgh counterpart, attracted Amy and me one warm Sunday before the start of term. Much of the programme was indecipherable, containing such gems as Rabbit’s Liver (dance), First fight with orange plane (music), 2008new life for uncles (folk) and Ant, drink tears (mime). We took in some art, a short yo-yo performance and the street stylings of Hip-Hop for Flowers before concluding that, while interesting, fun and important, the Festival could be better enjoyed by more advanced speakers of Korean.
Another weekend (shortly before the start of term) took us to the small rural town of Goesan (faintly reminiscent of butterfly expo-famed Hampyeong) for the annual Clean Pepper Festival. This is a celebration of the region’s fiery gochu (hot red pepper), lauded (by Goesan’s estimation at least) throughout Korea for its fine taste and appearance. This festival, or another one very like it, featured in the excellent film Geunyeoleul midji maseyo (English title: Too Beautiful to Lie), with the hapless male protagonist badgered into entering the Pepper Boy contest. Sadly we arrived too late to witness this (or the equivalent) spectacle.
Ostensibly all about the peppers, the festival (as expected) turned out to be quite a lot more. There were the usual agricultural displays, ranging from wholesalers doing a brisk trade in giant sacks of dried pepper and garlic, to bonsai fruit bushes, to silkworms being fed coloured food to produce pre-dyed silk, to the latest and greatest in high-tech farming (manufacturers clearly hoping to supplant all those tractor motor-trikes everybody seems to have).
We arrived to the sound of repetitive gong-like percussion, meaning that some kind of traditional ceremony was under way. It turned out, quite reasonably for a farming area, to be a harvest offering (as near as we could guess, at least), with old folks in costume coming and going near a small altar. Anyone who wanted a closer look was forced to muscle their way through countless amateur photographers toting foot-long lenses, possibly hoping for a scoop in their local newspaper.
After walking the length of the stalls on both sides of the river (pausing to make a traditional ink-block print, paint a mask and say hello to some captive frogs), we noticed a definite concentration of people along the banks. One major part of this festival is bare-handed fish catching, made slightly easier by the fish being trapped by nets in a short section of a shallow river but still fun enough for everyone to jump in and have a go. After much splashing and cursing, the fish were all caught and transferred a little further downstream for the process to begin again. After this second catching, the fish were possibly released (at least we didn’t see any being carried off), safe (comparatively speaking) for another year.
With the evening festivities clouded in non-comprehension of Korean, the lack of good transport links to Seoul and the advent of work, we wandered back to the bus station and made ready to head back to the concrete jungle. We had a little while to wait before our bus, and I maximised my time by taking a short walk to a nearby and extremely well-maintained temple (I later discovered that I’d had my polarising filter at the wrong angle).