Come quick! People in funny hats!

After work last Tuesday, I got word that people in costumes were dancing around my neighborhood, Byeongyeong. There usually isn’t a lot happening around here, other than lots of drinking and raw-fish-eating and the occasional drunken fight, so it seemed worth a look. As I came down the hill from my apartment, I was greeted by rhythmic drumming and some kind of singing (or maybe more like chanting) being blasted over the PA. A crowd had already gathered, blocking off most of the street. On the small stage, many people in white outfits and funny hats were dancing around and beating on some traditional Korean drums. In the middle was a wizard, which was obvious because of his long white beard and light blue robe.

Byeongyeong festival
What was all the fuss about? Some holiday celebrating a ‘campaign’ against Japan was how my co-teacher explained it – something to do with independence, but not independence day. According to wikipedia, there are several Japan-related holidays.

After a little more drumming, all of the colorful floofy-hatted performers departed, only to be replaced by some all-pink floofy-hatted drummers. They were joined by three traditional Korean masks, and what seemed to be a big alter. Luckily, the wizard remained. There was plenty of more drumming and chanting and dancing, this time in a circle around the alter.

(I tried out my camera’s video for the first time to try to capture some of the music, because I thought it was kind of cool. This is a bit long and unedited. My two favorite dancers were the wizard and the incredibly happy drumming man, who didn’t stop smiling for the hour that I saw him. You can see them towards the end.)

Bowing to the alter-thing
Everyone bowing to the alter. It had some fake pears (I think they were pears?) at the base.

The Wizard-guy is my favorite
His hat is part of the traditional Korean hanbok. But the robe and beard seem all wizard to me.

I like their hats too
I would like to acquire one of these hats.

The event was watched by a sea of ajummas
Please take a moment to note that the crowd consists almost entirely of older women, all with the exact same short curly-poofy haircut. This is the ajumma.

The traditional mask takes a drink
At one point, a ‘well’ was wheeled out and all the masks and the wizard-man drank from it.

Then they made a ‘fire’, which was rather unfortunately just a smoke bomb under some dried brances.
The wizard-guy dances by the smoke

Traditional mask man in front of the fake fire

The festival kind of reminded me of the kukeri festival they do in Bulgaria, for the end of winter. The fire, dancing and drumming in a circle, and funny costumes were all rather similar.
Kukeri Festival
(from the Kukeri festival in Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria)

They went on singing and dancing for another 15 minutes or so, and some guy started giving out apples to many people in the crowd. We were just about to leave when I ran into some of my students. At first I didn’t recognize them…
A couple of my students in some crazy make-up for a dance performance
…as they were wearing this make-up that looked like a mash-up between CATS and Avatar.

A couple of my students in some crazy make-up for a dance performance

I find the way it distorts their noses and eyes a bit disturbing, but it made me want to stick around and see what kind of dance warranted such make-up.

As we waited, we watched three couples of older women dance to dated-sounding disco music. This was followed by a group of slightly younger women in mermaid-ish belly dancing outfits dancing to Shakira.

Then some women dressed like mermaids bellydanced to Shakira...

My students unfortunately were not doing a CATS or Avatar-inspired dance, just some KPop. But it was cool to see them perform, and they were awesome, and I think one of my sixth grade boys has a future as a back-up dancer. The kids dancing after them were wearing flannel shirts tied around their waists, which startled me almost as much as the cat-makeup. ’90s grungy flannel and KPop just don’t seem to go together.

The sign hung up behind the stage translated to ‘citizen bragging songs’. Whatever that means. The dancing went on for another four hours at least, so I guess they had a lot to brag about…

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