Korean festivals and I have a long history that I must admit, hasn’t always been a happy one. While I love the idea of festivals and am glad that Korea has SOOO many of them, I approach them with caution. From time to time, I find myself in a place that is too crowded (Fireworks Festival), too overrated (Boryeong Mud Festival), and end up too disappointed (Yeosu Expo). I was pleasantly surprised that the Andong International Mask Festival not only lived up to my expectations, but surpassed them in every way!
For starters, this festival lives up to its name of being called an ‘international’ festival. Not only were there tourists and not just those like me who already reside in Korea, but there were also a number of performers from teams all over Asia including Singapore,
While some of these performances required an entrance fee (7000 won or 3000 won for groups), it was totally worth it as I was literally at arm’s length from the stage. Besides, if you have lived in Korea as long as I have, you too might be willing to pay a little extra for some breathing room given that the festival itself was free.
The location of the festival was in Andong city, and I happened to go the same day as the International Fireworks Festival in Seoul, which seemed to keep many of the crowds away. In a seemingly wise attempt to spread out visitors further, the festival was also held in three other locations with shuttles running regularly between them. The main festival grounds seemed to always have things going on from contests to magic shows to awesome displays of masks that seemed almost professional grade.
One of those locations away from the festival grounds happened to be the real reason why I came to this festival in the first place, The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hahoe Village. Hahoe deserves its own article in a future evaluation style post, but in brief, it is a traditional village from which the mask festival originates.
I was not expecting much given my visits to other ‘traditional villages,’ but even in the cover of drizzle and overcast, I was completely blown away. I was glad to have killed two birds with one stone by coming at the time of the festival, but I feel that Hahoe definitely deserves a second look… maybe even a third.
At the village, despite the rain, performers put on an excellent mask show. Traditionally, it was the village’s way to tackle real life problems by using satire to poke fun at the upper classes, much like Roman commoners did in Ancient Rome, or of course, simply to tell stories. Today, 600 years later, the tradition lives on with performances every year at the mouth of the Nakdonggang River that so beautifully encompasses this village.
Back at the fair grounds, I didn’t want to leave. Not only was the food amazing (as it always is in Korean festivals),
but the performances were increasingly entertaining. My favorite, although unrelated to masks, was when a group of elementary-aged children re-enacted the super-cute song “Ppa Ppa Ppa” by Crayon Pop. Click on the link, you know you want to (last chance!).
On the train ride back, all I could think about is how I should have come two weekends in a row instead of one. If you are in Korea around this time (late Sept – Early Oct, varies yearly), make sure to check out the Andong International Mark Festival as this one is truly, can’t-miss.