Every Korean knows that Fall brings the best weather to the peninsula. It’s not stifling hot nor freezing cold and you aren’t plagued with the pollen and yellow dust brought by Spring. And thanks to all this great weather, every city and town in Korea has to host some sort of festival. Most of them are pretty cool, though a few get a little wacky, like the Gangyeong Fermented Seafood Festival.
Here in Gyeongju we’ve got a couple of events to keep an eye out for this Fall. Coming up this weekend is the Gyeongju Hallyu Dream Festival which is running from Friday Sept. 10th through Sunday Sept. 12th in Hwangseong Park. It’s a massive “Korean Wave” pop culture festival with the biggest K-pop stars, like Super Junior and 2PM, slated to perform along with a fashion show and guest appearances by K-drama stars. Word is that they’re expecting about 20,000 people to attend. Needless to say that I won’t be one of them, though I might try to catch the fireworks from my roof.
If K-pop isn’t your bag or you’re more into outdoor sports, you might want to sign up for the Shilla Moonlight Walk, scheduled for October 23rd. By the light of the full moon thousands of people gather in Hwanseongdong Park and walk the 33k course out to and around Bomun lake and then back through town. The real keeners can opt for the 66 km route which continues past Bulguksa Temple, up Mt. Tohamsan to Seokkuram grotto and back. I’ve never been though I hear it’s a great time, especially if you’ve brought a bottle of soju or two along for the walk The participation fee is 12,000 won in advance and 15,000 the night of. For more info, visit the Gyeongju E-guide.
There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the larger Gyeongsang-do province as well. My favorite festival in Korea is the Andong Mask Dance Festival which kicks off early this year on Sept. 24th and runs through October 3rd. It’s well worth taking a few days to check out, especially since it was canceled last year due to the swine flu scare. I’ve been 3 times and the international dance performances on main stage performances are always entertaining, but some maybe more than others. However, my personal highlights are the Shaman Stage (where I once saw a Korean Shaman dance on knife blades while zonked on hallucinogenic mushrooms) and the traditional Korean Fire Show at Hahoe Folk Village (which includes flaming boulders being tossed from the top of a cliff). If staying overnight, I suggest booking in advance as hotels fill up quick.
Further south in Busan there’s always a whole lot of bustle come Autumn. The Busan Art Biennale starts on Sept. 11th and continues through November 20th. For an art geek like me, the Biennale’s better than Christmas and I’ve attended every one since 2002. There are always lots of wacky art installations and video pieces along with photography, painting and sculpture. But, unlike a lot of the pretentious contemporary art galleries up in Seoul, the work exhibited at the Busan Biennale is both playful and provocative. The main exhibitions are at Busan Museum of Art, Busan Yacht Center and Gwangalli Beach, which are conveniently near the motels of Haeudae Beach.
And speaking of Haeundae Beach, the PIFF (or Pusan International Film Festival) runs this year from October from the 7th through the 14th. The PIFF is truly an international event and screens literally hundreds of films from around the world. I did the PIFF properly a few years back and saw over a dozen movies, everything from insane Japanese Anime and Surreal Javanese Opera to an ultra-depressing documentary on Chernobyl. Most of the films are shown in venues around Haeundae, like the Busan Yachting Center Outdoor Theater or Megabox Cinemas. Durring the festival, tickets are sold at the 1st floor box office of the Megabox Cinema, just a block east of the Haeundae train station.
A few words of warning though: most of movies sell out well in advance through online booking. In the past the PIFF website hasn’t accepted foreign I.D. numbers when making reservations, which is daft considering the “International” caliber of the event. They do reserve certain percentage of the tickets to sell the day of, but fans line up for these like it’s the last tour of the Grateful Dead. So, if you actually want to score tickets, ask a Korean to book online for you. Otherwise, you’d do well to line up a 6:00 am or earlier at the Megabox box ticket office if you want a shot at getting to watch your top picks. If not, don’t be surprised if you wind up on the beach hanging out with all the other confused and pissed off foreigners who came to the PIFF and didn’t get to see any movies. Believe me, it’s not a pretty scene.
Of course there’s way more fun stuff happening in Korea this Fall, like the Gwangju Biennale (9 / 3 – 11 / 7), the Jinju Lantern Festival (10 / 01 – 10 / 12), and the Busan Fireworks Festival (10 / 21 – 10 / 24). For a full listing of festival’s in Korea, check out this list on the K.T.O. website. Meanwhile, back here in Gyeongju, we’ll continue with the regularly scheduled Queen Seondeok Parades and concerts at Bonwongdae Tombs Park every weekend until the end of until late October. Enjoy