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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fishing for Fun at the Gwangan Eobang Festival

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

This weekend, Friday, April 26 through Sunday, April 28, come down to Busan to enjoy some fishing festival fun! The Gwangan Eobang Festival or Fishers' Festival, is taking place on the scenic and conveniently located Gwangalli Beach.

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Korean boy wearing fish hat. Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Celebrating the traditional ceremonies and rites of Korean fishing towns, the Eobang Festival promises dancing, singing, games, snacks, and much more! Located in Suyeong-gu, or Suyeong District, the area is known as one of Busan's premier fishing regions. Festival-goers will enjoy traditional dance and song performances, originally composed to wish the fishers luck and safety. At night, you can also see the impressive physical feat that is the synchronized group swim, where 10 men swim in time to beach-side drums. They curve and wind their way single-file to the lighted fishing boats, re-enacting nighttime fishing tradtions before making their way back to the beach. All weekend long, enjoy tasty seafood treats, festival booths, games, face-painting and other family-friendly activities. Admission is free and most activities are free or available at a low cost. Don't forget to buy a souvenir fish hat!

Night swim performance. Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

Gwangan Eobang Festival. Busan, South Korea.

To get there, take the subway to Gwangan Subway station, Metro line 2 (green line, stop #209). Take exit 5. Turn back on yourself and then turn right, walking straight for 800 metres (7-8 minutes) down the hill, crossing three crosswalks before reaching the beach. You can also get off at Geumnyeonsan Station, Metro line 2 (green line, stop #210). Take exit 3, and turn left walking 800 metres (7-8 minutes) straight down the cobbled street, crossing three crosswalks before reaching the beach. To get to Busan, take the train to Busan station or Gupo station, both located near the subway line. Several buses are also available, and the Haeundae terminal is only eight subway stops from Gwangan station.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Black and Blue: Koreans Mend Broken Hearts with Black Day, April 14

Feeling lonely? Celebrate Black Day on April 14,
and eat some jjajanmyeon, or black noodles

Today, April 14, is Black Day in Korea. What is Black Day? It's one part mourning, and one part celebration. It's the day that Korean singles gather together, dressed in black, and eat black noodles, lamenting their singledom and joining others who feel the same way - misery loves company, right? Black Day is a little emo, a little dramatic, a little funny, and altogether Korean.

Why are they so down? In the West, most singles only feel the pangs of love nearing Valentine's Day. If you think that's tough, try being Korean. In Korea, there's not just one day, but thirteen special days designed to celebrate love! Now before you pity those who aren't coupled, fret not. Only two of these days are equal to Valentine's Day in popularity, and those are White Day and Black Day, celebrated March 14th and April 14th, respectively. All of the love days fall on the 14th of each month, with the exception of Peppero Day, which falls on the 11th of November and is a cultural phenomenon all its own. Intrigued about Korean couple days? Grab your partner and don your matching couples' attire, read on, and learn how to celebrate (or avoid!) Korea's special days of love.

January 14 - Diary Day
Couples exchange diaries or agendas, and write their anniversaries or wishes for their next year together. If that year will include all of the pricey couple day outings, perhaps they should also schedule a bank appointment.

February 14 - Valentine's Day
Women present the men in their lives with chocolate treats. Women can confess their love or indicate their feelings by giving their chosen beau chocolates, and the more elaborate the treat, the greater the romantic attachment.

Valentine's Day display, Busan, South Korea

Valentine's Day display, Busan, South Korea

March 14 - White Day
Men return the women's affections with candy gifts, or any gift of their choosing. Again, the fancier the gift, the more he fancies you!

White Day candy, Busan

April 14 - Black Day
This one's for the singles. Solo guys and gals mourn (or celebrate!) their lack of romantic partner by dressing in black and gathering together to eat jjajangmeyon, or Korean noodles with black bean sauce. Foods blackened with squid ink are also becoming popular, as is black coffee, and I wouldn't be surprised if the coffee shops or squid-sellers soon latch onto this day as an excuse to boost sales.

May 14 - Rose Day and/or Yellow Day
Couples give roses to one another, while hopeful singles gather once again, this time in yellow dress to eat yellow curried rice. Although yellow is a sunny and optimistic colour, I personally think that curry-breath won't help help anyone get a date.

June 14 - Kiss Day
This is the time to shower your beloved with kisses. Finally, a holiday exclusively for making out. Pucker up!

July 14 - Silver Day
Twosomes exchange silver accessories, the most popular of which are couple rings, his and hers rings worn on the left hand as an indication of a couple's commitment to one another. It's also popular for younger couples to ask their friends for "silver" or small change in order to pay for a romantic date! I'm gonna see if I can swing this one...

August 14 - Green Day
Couples clothed in green attire have fun frolicking outdoors, leaving their single companions to drown their sorrows with soju, a cheap and popular Korean alcohol packaged in - what else?- a green bottle.

September 14 - Photo and/or Music Day
On this day, couples take a photo together to display in a special place, and this provides a great excuse to visit the ever-popular instant photo-sticker booths. Couples may also wish to visit a nightclub or a noraebang  (singing room) so that they can serenade one another with the love songs of their choosing. I imagine that broken-heart ballads may also be popular with the singles set on this day.

October 14 - Wine Day
A good excuse to get tipsy on some tipple with your better half. If you're still single and bummed about it, I advise that you forget your troubles and just down a bottle solo.

November 14 - Movie Day
The perfect time to have a movie night with your beloved. With the abundance of smart devices in Korea, this could be done anywhere, but the romantic atmosphere of a cinema or DVD bang (DVD room) is preferred, especially since you can make out in a DVD bang.

December 14  - Hug Day and/or Socks Day
Hug it out with the one you love, or, if you really need an excuse to spend some more money on your honey, go and buy them a pair of socks to keep both their feet and their hearts warm.

Free Hugs in Seoul's shopping hotspot, Myeong-dong.
A fun  idea year-round.

November 11 - Peppero Day and/or Garraetteok Day
And finally, the biggest and the baddest of the holidays and equal to Valentine's Day in terms of revenue earned is the true commercial holiday, Pepero DayPepero is a chocolate covered cookie stick manufactured by the Korean conglomerate Lotte. This special day is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month as the long slender shape of the Pepero cookie resembles the digit 1, and four Pepero cookies will resemble the date 11/11 (or five cookies, if you're counting the slash!). Koreans of all ages exchange boxes of Pepero cookies, and shops sell numerous and impressive gift packs, toys, cards, and accessories. It's also popular to make one's own Pepero-style cookies, or to assemble elaborate gift packs yourself. Some celebrants opt instead to participate in 11/11 in a less commercial fashion with Garraetteok Dayexchanging the traditional white glutinous rice cake that's served in long, thin strips.

Korean shoppers perusing elaborate 
Pepero Day displays and gift packs

Now you know why Korean singles are feeling a bit blue on Black Day. If you're feeling lonely and lovelorn, take a hint from the Koreans. Don some new duds, get together with friends new and old, and eat some good food! Happy Black Day, everyone!

Korea's Campaigns Bring New Meaning to the Term "Electoral Party"

Local election campaign in Osan, Gyeonggi-do. June 2010.

On Wednesday, April 11,  2012 South Korea held a legislative election, a precursor to the upcoming presidential election taking place December 2012. So while this blog will talk about that election, if you want to learn about Korean political parties, or the electoral system, or about the Korean constitution, you're in the wrong place. I'm here to tell you about a different kind of political party - the splashy, heart-pounding, music-blaring, foot-stompin' party that is the Korean election campaign.

I'd only been here a few months when I saw my first election campaign in June 2010. It was the local election, but despite its small reach, the election's big heart was unmistakable. I was blown away. Never had I felt so foreign, delighted, and puzzled all at once. The campaigns were so phenomenally different from what I'd experienced at home in Canada. I asked my expatriate friends, "What are elections like back home?" The singular answer from Americans, Australians, Kiwis, Brits, Irish, and South Africans came back. "Not like this," they replied.

Campaign rally in Busan, April 2012

The Korean election campaign is about two weeks of attention-grabbing, K-Pop dancing, neon-light-flashing madness. It's twenty-somethings in sweatshirts, clapping and dancing. It's elderly women in visors, singing on the backs of campaign trucks. It's lights, bells, sirens, loudspeakers, and banners. It's giant inflatable dolls made to resemble the electoral candidate. It's non-stop, no-holds-barred FUN.

Campaign truck complete with TV, sound system, and dancers
cruises through the streets of Gimcheon in Gyeongbuk-do

The election campaigns are everywhere you go. Campaign workers dressed in party colours wave to you on the sidewalk. They hold signs, and wear banners and ball caps emblazoned with the party logo. Sometimes they even sport light-up sandwich boards! They shout, clap, and thank you from street corners, truck beds, rooftops, and megaphones. In Canada, I'd occasionally forget that an election was nearing until I passed an campaign sign staked on someone's front yard. Not so in South Korea. Starting from 8 AM until well after dinner, trucks with loudspeakers drive up and down the busiest of streets and the narrowest of alleys, blaring traditional tunes, or tailor-made musical jingles. Some trucks are outfitted with TV screens or dancers, or even both! Tents and big-screen projections can often be found city-centre, manned by a team of smiling, bowing supporters, passing out pamphlets and small gifts with the candidate's face stamped onto the packaging.

The election campaigns truly are everywhere, even if it's... nowhere.
Supporters wait to greet passersby in rural Gijang.

Rallies are held in parks and outside city halls, complete with speeches and entertaining performances. Voters come out in droves to support their chosen party, even in the nastiest of weather conditions. Walking to the train station in the rain last week, I was surprised to find workers from three parties dressed in rain ponchos waving and bowing to me, and thanking me with a smile. With so much activity, it's very difficult to ignore election campaigns. I can't even vote in Korea and I know the names and faces of the four candidates in my riding, thanks to sheer perseverance on the part of their workers and supporters!

A campaign rally  in Busan attracts supporters, despite rainy weather

Campaign workers wave to motorists in Busan

So while I resent the elections for waking me up so early on Saturday mornings with their unwanted megaphone serenades, I admire them for their imagination. Never have elections been quite so intriguing and entertaining to me as they have been in South Korea. And with the conflicting political views  that plague democracies worldwide, who couldn't use a little more entertainment? Tune in to Korea's presidential campaigns in December 2012, you're in for a treat.

Campaign workers holding signs and bowing to motorists in Busan

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Making the Most of Korean Festivals in 2012

The Eobang or Fishers' Festival on Gwangan Beach, Busan

The arrival of spring on the Korean peninsula marks a new season and a wonderful opportunity to try new and exciting things! This year, I suggest that you attend one of the hundreds of festivals taking place in Korea. I've been living and working in Korea for over two years now, and I never tire of the unique and interesting festivals and cultural activities that this beautiful little country has to offer. Even though I've attended my fair share of festivals, I still keep my eyes peeled for new ones that will entertain and introduce me to new aspects of Korea's scenery, life, and culture. Here are a few of my tips for enjoying yourself on the festival circuit this year.

1) Do something that's out of your comfort zone
Whether you are Korean or foreign, a resident of the area or just visiting, ask yourself, "When will I have the opportunity to try this again?" The answer may be, "Never!" in which case you should give that activity your best shot. Who knows? You just may like it. This is how I came to try barehanded fishing and eel-trapping, and to discover that I was good at both activities!
Korean boys trying out  널뛰기 (Nol Ttwigi), a traditional seesaw game
for Chuseok activities at Gyeongbukgong Palace, Seoul

Ice-fishing might not be for everyone,
but you won't know until you try!

2) Eat the local food, and try something unusual
Every time I attend a festival, I reserve my change and small bills exclusively for sampling the tasty local treats that are offered. It doesn't matter what it is, I've just got to try it! Every area in the country is known for a prized cuisine, and that's the one that you should spend your money on. It's easy to find the local specialty, since it's usually located in the tent, stand, or booth with the long line of hungry-looking Koreans in front of it! Without experimenting at festival food tents,  I never would have discovered the deliciousness that is barbecued eel, fried ginger, or bokbunja, a kind of black raspberry wine.

계란빵 (Gye-ran Bbang) or egg bread, a tasty winter treat

Barbecued squid, served hot off the grill in the summer

Tasty grilled fish, caught fresh at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Festival
Makkeolli, beer and Bokbunja wine, flavoured with black raspberries

3) Celebrate each of the four seasons with vigour!
Korea is lucky enough to have four seasons, and with each change of season comes new rituals, rites, activities, and treats to eat! I've seen nine changes of season so far, and I still feel like I have some catching up to do. Each season I discover something to learn about, something new to try, or something tasty to eat. Open your mind, your heart, and your belly - learning, loving, and eating are on the agenda in 2012!

Summer fun at the Haeundae Sand Festival, Busan

Autumn discovery during the Chuseok holiday at Bulguksa,
a temple in Gyeongju

Welcoming Spring at the Eobang or Fishers' Festival in Busan
A boy enjoying his traditional ice sleigh at the Dongjangkun Festival
in Baekwon Valley, Gangwon-do

 4) Talk to the Locals
I've never attended a festival in Korea where I haven't met a kind Korean with something interesting to say. If you're foreign, the stresses of living in or visiting a foreign country, can make it difficult to make local friends sometimes. Koreans especially are a very busy, hard-working people with a social code that can sometimes be difficult to decipher. At a festival or event, it's a different story. People have come from all over the country to relax and have a good time, and they are in a much more social mood. Whenever I've attended festivals, Koreans have offered assistance, translation, recommendations, and sometimes they just want to share a plain old chat. Their kindness makes you feel welcome, and by talking to them you may make a friend or learn something new! Talking to locals  provides a wonderful chance to share something about your culture, and to learn more about the Land of Morning Calm and her fascinating inhabitants.

Making friends at the Hwacheon Ice Festival, Gangwon-do

Military men enjoying their day off at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Festival

I met these lovely women competing at the Geoje Penguin Swim Festival

5) Take photos, take time, take it in
Even if you ignore my first four tips for festival fun, then heed this last snippet of advice. Take your time, take everything in, and, if you can, take photos - lots of 'em.  Take pictures of the sights, the scenery, the food, and most importantly, the people. Like I said before, when will you ever see this sight or meet these people again? Enjoy the moment while it lasts.

The Seoul Lantern Festival, celebrating Buddha's Birthday

Andong Mask Festival

The Busan International Fireworks Festival

I hope you've found my tips helpful, and I sincerely hope that everyone makes it out to a festival or two this year. Big or small, near or far, Korea's festivals are frequent, fun, and unforgettable.