Cultural education at South Korea festivals
By Eric Moya
It felt like an all-American family road trip: loading up into a somewhat embarrass- ing vehicle, hitting rest stop after rest stop, maybe even an
“Are we there yet?” or two.
But we weren’t in a minivan (or a
wood-paneled station wagon, for those of
us of a certain age). It was a 15-passenger
bus with dual “Gangnam Style” decals
adorning its limo-tinted passenger windows, and a sound system capable of
cranking out said Psy hit at eardrum-crushing volumes.
The rest stops were Roy Rogers- and
Sbarro-free. And generally we were
able to keep ourselves occupied as well-maintained highways sped us through
mountainous terrain from destination to
We weren’t in the U.S., of course: I was
with two other journalists and our guide
on a weeklong trip through South Korea. We were invited by the Korea Tourism Organization to take in some of the
country’s fall festivals, which showcased
myriad aspects of Korean culture yet,
much like our time in the Gangnamobile,
proved to be surprisingly familiar.
Gimje Horizon Festival
After a couple of nights in Busan, we
set out on the road for our first festival
about four hours west, in Gimje.
The city in North Jeolla province, a
region where for centuries farmers have
cultivated rice and other crops, is said to
be the only place on South Korea’s mainland where one can see the horizon, hence
the name of this agriculturally themed
The festival is held at the site of the
Gimje Byeokgolje Reservoir, which was
built in the fourth century.
Two bamboo-and-steel dragon sculptures stand at the site, representing the
reservoir’s mythological protectors.
Guests can see an exhibit about that myth
at the nearby Byeokgolje Museum of Agricultural Culture, which houses ancient
rice-harvesting tools and other artifacts
from Korean agricultural history. In fact,
it brought to mind state or county fairs
in the U.S., with kids’ play areas and food
stalls representing various world cuisines,
from shawarma to hot dogs.
On the day we visited, the festivities
concluded with an evening light show and
fireworks display, with the dragon sculptures as the centerpiece.
Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival
It was about a five-hour drive from
Fireworks at the Gimje
Horizon Festival at the Gimje