Friday, 11 October 2013

Masquerade! Every face a different shade!

On the weekend of October 5th and 6th, I went to Andong, which is in the Gyeonsangbuk-do province of South Korea, for its annual Mask Festival (bucket list item). I love masks and I have a dream that someday in my house, I will have a red-painted hall lined with masks I've collected on my adventures.

I had to get up early - my train was at 8.25 from Osong Train Station which is about 10 - 15 minutes away, in a different town. Although my body was extremely reluctant to be up that early, I am really glad I took the train when I did as it gave me lots of time to enjoy Andong and appreciate the journey I took to get there.
On arriving in the train station, my train was slightly delayed, so I headed down to the platform to wait. I noticed that there were quite a few people in hiking gear but thought nothing of it. I was taking the train only as far as Jecheon (which was my connecting point to Yeongwol when my brother was still living there). The carriage I was in was full of Koreans all in hiking gear. I took my seat all the while taking in the lurid colours of my carriage - I've never been on such green seats in my life and the doors to each car had stain glass in them! I opened my ereader and started on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,  when next thing some Korean guy was standing beside me and handing me a lunch bag with water, a banana, a gimbap roll and a biscuit. I thanked him and kept reading. A few minutes later a lady came looked at me curiously, sat down beside me and after making some statements in Korean, grabbed my backpack and hand and propelled me towards the front of the carriage: The food was in exchange for giving up my seat so all the hikers could sit together!  Despite this initial awkwardness, the rest of this leg of the journey went smoothly: I was even able to charge my phone battery!

In Jecheon, I transferred to the train bound for Andong. I luckily had a window seat as the scenes on my way there were spectaular. Beautiful hills and mountains of greens, small hamlet villages and rivers of bright blue lay before my wondering eyes. I kept gasping in delight and I am sure the poor man beside me thought I was the most annoying companion to have on that journey! I took some snaps hoping to capture some of the beauty of what I was seeing. Unfortunately, snaps from a moving train do not give justice to nature's majesty!

After finding my hostel, I was starving and decide to wander towards the festival site and look out for some food. However, it was much closer than I anticipated and before I knew it, I was wandering under tents filled with everything from donughnuts to shwarma and shoes to mobile phone covers. Escaping this fascinating display, I found myself at the festival grounds and proceeded to wander around the booths where you could decorate your own paper mask, build a 3-D puzzle, do archery or pottery. There were several stages with performances on them, including one that was a competition stage. At first, I thought this was the main stage and I was a little creeped out by young girls dressed like candidates for Miss America dancing like belly dancers and making moves that I would be too embarrassed to make even by myself in the privacy of my own home!

After wandering the booths for a while and making purchases left, right and centre, I parked myself at one of the mask shops and proceeded decorate this mask.  The paint that you use is little tiny dots of colour that you smoosh in your hand. Luckily, the paint doesn't actually stain your hands at all, and if someone of it stays, just take the smooshed bit and dab at your hand until it re-attaches to it. This sounds weird but it's true! The end result makes is really interesting and leaves a kind of roughness to the mask. I had great fun blenidng colours and deciding how I wanted the mask to look. I had chosen a butterfly shaped mask but you could choose more traditional shapes, if you wanted.
Eventually, I found the main stage and 7,000 won later* had a ticket to see Hamsesang, a story about a tiger and a family. I'm not quite sure what it all meant but it was funny and beautiful. It seemed like a mix of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.
The following day, I went back to the festival to see some international performances by China, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. These were stunning. The costumes were a mixture of simple and elaborate, the dances were both masked and unmasked and each told a different lyrical tale. My favourite performances were the Malaysian ones, and of their performances, the Peacock dance was the one that I liked the most: the fluidity of their movements really reminded me of those majestic birds. 
Peacock Dance
So you might think I'm mad to have had this experience by myself and without anyone else. Sometimes, it was awkward to be by yourself, especially when I sat down to make a mask - I was the only person at my own table! However, with no one to accompany me, I lost myself in the beauty of the dance, the masks and the festival itself. I had so much fun and I spent as much time as I wanted at each activity. While I would definitely have loved to have shared this experience with my friends, being by myself gave me a chance to dwell in the experience and that is something I am glad I got to do. 

Water feature in Andong downtown area.

*I believe the cost for an entire day's worth of performances is 7,000 won. I didn't find the main stage until around 3.30 and only decided to attend one performance at 5pm. The next day, I only had time for one performance.

PS The title of this post was inspired by The Phantom of the Opera song Masquerade.

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