Making the Most of Korean Festivals in 2012

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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.


My Photo

Busan, South Korea
I'm a lucky young woman who has had the wonderful opportunity to live and travel in South Korea. My time here has taken me all over the country, and my blog follows those adventures. Enjoy!
You can also find my wiritng on The Korea Blog, the official blog of the government of Korea



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