Sunday, July 18, 2010
Boryeong Mud Festival
The Boryeong Mud Festival is probably the festival in Korea that attracts the most international visitors. For one week during the summer, thousands and thousands of people (foreign and Korean) come to Daechon Beach on the west coast of the country for this mud extravaganza. The festival was first started because of the therapuetic properties of the mud, with the high mineral content said to be good for the skin and used in local cosmetics. Now in its 13th year, it is a festival of not only cosmetics, but mud wrestling, mud slides, mud massages, mud painting, traditional competitions (in mud), parades, outdoor concerts, and dance perfomances. For more info, they have a festival homepage in English.
I went this past weekend, which was the festival's opening. My friend Tonya had booked a guesthouse for 15 of us one block from the beach. Saturday morning I got a ride there with a Korean friend, driving through the pouring rain. Not exactly good beach weather, but I suppose of all festivals, a mud festival is an okay time for rain. I was pleasantly surprised at how well layed out the grounds were- many games, booths, information kiosks, food and beer tents, free lockers, changing areas, and all literally steps from the beach. It was a bit hard to find friends between the crowd of people and our lack of carrying cell phones. Despite the rain, there was still a huge turn out, and it was warm and humid enough for bathing suits.
The mud area shuts down between 6 and 7pm, forcing revelers to go home, clean up, and recharge for the night. There are numerous seafood restaurants in this coastal town, and we went out for the largest clam feed I have ever had. Like most large Korean meals, you cook your own meat on a grill at your table. We had several kinds of shellfish, seaweed soup, corn, and cold beer in the warm night air. Luckily it had stopped raining, and in the evening there was music and dancing along the beach as well as at a huge stage venue on the festival grounds.
I thought the event had the potential of feeling too much like Spring Break in Cancun or something. Too many drunk, bikini-clad foreigners reeking havoc on the local community. But it did not feel that way. There was drinking, but I didn't see anything out of control. There were many foreigners, but many Koreans too, including families and Korean women in bikinis, which is rare. The local business-owners and festival staff seemed like they were genuinely enjoying the atmosphere, and not at all jaded by chaos. There were many types of festival-goers and a good variety of activities, and I think this diversity really contributed to a fun, sincere environment.
The only real downside of the weekend was on the beach when I walked away from my purse for about 15 minutes. All day, people had been leaving sandals, sunglasses, bags, etc. sitting around, and it felt like a very safe place. But my purse got stolen, and unfortunately a couple friends had put wallets and cell phones in it too. I happened to have my camera, phone, and cash in my pockets so all I lost was my waterbottle, umbrella, and a pair of earrings. I feel really bad for my friends, and that we had to be blatantly reminded to not be too complacent about safety. Of course the main thing is that no one got hurt, and what was lost are things that can be replaced.
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. I have hardly seen blue skies in Korea this summer. It is typically hot, but overcast and humid. Like an international hobbit, I first had a Korean breakfast of ramyeon and kimchee, then a second breakfast of home-cooked potatos, cheesy eggs, and bacon. Then I was fully ready for day two of mud and beach!
I can't describe how wonderful swimming in the ocean was. It was my first time REALLY swimming this year, not counting a brief, chilly plunge in April. There aren't really public lakes or ocean beaches in Gunsan. Here in Daechon, the water was refreshingly cool but not cold, clearer than most Yellow Sea waters, and with big waves perfect for wave jumping and body surfing. I felt so at home just hanging out in the water. By afternoon we were feeling the heat, probably all a little tired, sunburned, and dehydrated. There were 6 left in the group, and we decided to take the train back. The city buses that went past the train station were all packed. We asked where we could catch a taxi, and the event staff guy said we had to walk about 15 minutes out of the festival area. Then he told us to wait. A couple minutes later, a fancy tour bus pulled up, and he told us it would take us to the train station. We got into this huge bus with a/c, empty except for us. I have no idea how that happened, but it was really nice, and testament to personal and caring organizers amidst so many people.