Korea report from Barb Waldern: March 15 – of national holiday for a martyr and folk festivals

Warm greetings, everyone!

    I hope you are enjoying the start
of the spring thaw as much as we are here. Temperatures rising to over
15 degrees Celsius most afternoons, we are shedding our winter layers
and shopping for spring adornments. Lots of sunshine but a little more
humidity, thank goodness. No flowers or green shoots here yet, though.

Because of Isobel's passing (Solidarity Notes Choir member), I delayed
this letter. It's good to know that she was well cared for and that she
succeeded in making such a fine contribution during her lifetime, but
sad that she left us so suddenly and so soon.

    I have been busier
with the return to the regular class schedule and some new activities.
For one thing, I am shedding winter fat by regular daily visits to a
gym near my neighbourhood. For another, I am continuing the Korean
studies. I think I  might actually have accomplished what could pass
for a real conversation in Korean the other day. My tutors say I'm
progressing a lot, but it still seems so awkward and inadequate.

February 21st was a day of solstice events. Each “dong” (city sector)
held a little festival with a huge bonfire to burn winter debris and
accompanying music and feasts.

    March 1st is a national holiday.
It fell on a Saturday this year. The day is set aside to commemorate a
martyr who led the resistance against the Japanese occupiers. Yu Kwan
Seun was a young female university student who roused her compatriots
into action and was imprisoned and tortured to death for it. A memorial
monument was constructed in Pagoda Park in Jongno-dong in Seoul. Every
year, there is a marathon race in Seoul on March 1st.

    March 1st
is also the day of the annual folk festival in Yeongsan town. Villagers
from the area come bringing colourful traditional bands and teams
carrying bamboo stems with village banners attached to them to perform
the rites. There are mock battles with a costumed “warrior” brandishing
a fake sword atop a frame of pine logs and carried by a team in a mock
challenge against an opponent team. The wood frame acts as a giant
horse. Then there is a kind of jousting event with each of two teams
carrying long poles decorated with pheasant plumes on the top ends.
This time, one pole fell into the crowd and a fight ensued! At another
point, a pole was lowered so that it nearly swiped the mayor and his
entourage in the viewing stands.

Such occurrences are no doubt
stimulated by the abundant flow of fermented rice and apple drink,
“mokoli”. Thankfully, no accident occurred during obstacle course
event. In that event, teams carry big pine logs cradled in hand made
ropes up a ramp to a platform, across poles suspended lengthwise. There
was also a series of dances and songs to exorcise bad spirits that
might effect the sowing of crops and birth of livestock. My camera ran
out of power just as the festivities were beginning.

My Korean class organized a visit to the Yeongsan Festival. We also
toured a site of Gaya dynasty tombs on that day. It's a beautiful area
around the town of Changyeong. I did catch photos of the tombs site.

I missed the March 8 IWD activities. I didn't hear of much going on
here, except for an exhibit of paintings in this region. What do you
expect from a country where Mothers' Day was turned into Parents' Day
so that fathers could be included?

    March 14, dubbed “Compassion
Day,” is marked for some corporation inspired candy-giving tradition.
Boys and men are supposed to give candy to the special women in their
lives. I got pocketfuls of candy from girls and boys (most of which I
will throw away). The government showed its compassion on that day by
holding a civil defense drill. I was waiting for a bus to take me to
work at 2:00 when air raid sirens sounded and all traffic was stopped.
Jets flew overhead and police rolled by. It is an astounding thing to
see traffic here come to a standstill, and for 10 minutes! The incident
made me 15 minutes late for work, by the way, which I didn't mind
considering that my first class on Fridays is a roomful of little

March 15, however, is an important day, especially in Masan. It is
3.15, the anniversary of the uprising against election fraud in Masan
in 1960 that gave enough of a boost to the national democracy movement
to finally oust dictator Rhee. A ceremony is held annually at the
memorial cemetery to pay tribute the 15 individuals killed by the
police on that day. I attended it. Only about 2,000 people were there
for the event. I think I was the only white foreigner there. When I ask
young Koreans about it, few know.

    What else have I been up to?
Well, I make my regular trips to Busan. Last month, I visited a gallery
of modern art. There is a lot of political art in the country,
especially about the occupation, WW2, Koreans in Japan, and hopes for

I went to the cinema for the first time. I saw “Atonement”. It's not
Kiera Knightly's best role, but it makes some points about the horrors
of war and its effects on the youth and class attitudes. I also saw
“Spiderwick”, which is not a bad children's movie, especially for
children experiencing family separation.

    I skipped the fish cafe
experience. Certain cafes house little flesh eating fish. You sip
coffee while soaking your feet in tubs of water full of the little
demons who munch on your dead skin.. Sounds delightful? Appetizing?
Huh-huh! Get a pumice stone, eh!

    What else? Oh, we're getting
wafts of yellow dust, toxic particles from unregulated industry in
China. No wonder a friend has an eye infection and I had a little
bronchial congestion this past week.

    Happy 3.15, Ides of March, Palm Sunday, premature St. Patty's Day and early spring solstice, etc., wishes to you all.


One thought on “Korea report from Barb Waldern: March 15 – of national holiday for a martyr and folk festivals

  1. Anonymous

    Is Barb still in Masan? I am really enjoying her updates! My son's family came from Masan (we adopted him in 2003) and being able to read about life there is SO special. Have you visited the fishing docks? We are told that our son's grandfather is a fisherman….we'd love to hear about what his life and the life of his family may be like.
    Thank you for your very descriptive and interesting letters about Masan! I am going to print them out for my son's baby book in case he is interested in reading them one day.
    If you'd like, you can contact me at awennstrom@sbcglobal.net If you have any photos of the area, I would love to see them!
    Thank you,


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