A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Mudening

We're in the car behind the conductor's, sitting room only, so I'm curled away in a tiny alcove between a sliding door and a protruding wall. Riley is stretched out next to some foreign girls whining about relationships. She's reading my (borrowed) copy of On The Road, since I can't concentrate because my arms and feet hurt too much. I stare out the window as the mountains and sky start to get darker. We're on our way back from the Boryeong Mud Festival, and it kicked our asses in the best way.

Flashback to my random meeting of an old high school acquaintance during the Lotus Lantern Festival in May. I asked what I definitely needed to do while I was still in Korea. He told me to go to the Mud Festival.

"What's the Mud Festival?"

"Go and you'll understand."

Designated by the Tourism Department as the best festival in Korea, Riley quickly heard about it too, and we made plans to see what the fuss was about.

So last Friday night we convened in Seoul, stayed over at a friend of Riley's and early Saturday morning we headed down to the massive Yongsan station complex to catch the 9:30 train to Daechon. There were plenty of other foreigners milling around who were obviously in a beach state of mind, so we knew we were on the right track. Not only popular in Korea, the festival is a big draw for international tourists. Riley posted a Aussie video from last year's festival which you can check out for some background.

Anyway we got our tickets for the 3-hour trip (on the cheap, only $10 each) but when a Korean train sells all it's seats it still sells something in the range of 400 more "standing room only" tickets. This means you get to sit, stand, squat or squeeze yourself into any available inch of space not allotted to the fat-cat seat holders. We staked out a spot on the steps to one of the exits. It was a good place, except we randomly had to stand to let on old women hauling orange buckets full of god-knows-what wrapped in black garbage bags. It was hardly like the ironic images of packed to the gills, hanging out the windows and wherever there's footing East Indian train rides, but it was pretty full at times.

We left Seoul with dark clouds, and were greeted by relentless, yet glorious sunshine in Daechon-Boryeong. After a lunch of bibimbap (spicy rice and veg) we cabbed it to our awesomely named "Motel Drama" which lucky for us, turned out to be almost directly on the beach. We checked in, suited up, and went to see what was happening on the sand. Across the street from the Drama was an open plaza with a fountain shooting off like a giant lawn sprinkler. A crowd of Koreans were getting muddy in a big inflatable sloshing pool.

No for those of you imaging garden mud, think facial mud. Boryeong is famous for the quality of it's mud beauty products, harvested from a mud plain near the beach. Apparently it's super high in Bentonite and Germanium and other skin-friendly minerals.

The beach itself is about 3.5 km long, and we were on the far right end facing the sea. So as we walked to where the action was at (on the opposite side) we started to see more and more people painted up in grey-green mud. There were more foreigners than I've ever seen congregated in one place in Korea. Mudless, Riley and I were standing out even more than usual, so we made out (ED: ha, Freudian slip? I meant of course, "made our") way to the main-stage area. Past the Mud Wrestling Flats, "Mud Jail" and watery, sloshing mud shenanigan pool (not official title) was a spread of tables with beach umbrellas, buskets (Suicide Kings fans?) and brushes to "self-massage."

We did just that.

I can compare the sensation to applying a mud pack on the face, then putting your face in front of a fan. It was like that, but on your whole body. The cool breeze off the Yellow Sea blew over our muddy bodies and took any hint of stress away with it. It was a glorious feeling.

Now as one with the muddy masses, we wandered in the crowd near the main stage where a band of foreigners played happy, dumb punk-rock covers. In spirit I got Riley to craft me a mud mohawk, but compared to the mud slicked hair of the stylish Korean guys, crafted into dos of impossible anime proportions, it was only an accomplishment to me. In the crowd we met up with Riley's friends who would be staying with us, Deb and Adam from California, and Michael from Ireland. They were fine folks all and we took in the wild atmosphere of the moment.

It was mid-afternoon by now, and in the main area was packed with muddy revelers and hundreds of photographers. They were staked out in the windows of cafes or on the tops of RVs. Many were just wandering the crowds with plastic bags wrapped around their massive lenses. We all had dozens of photos taken of us, and a guy from a TV News crew stopped to ask me some simple questions in English about how I liked the festival and if I found the language barrier a problem (my answer at the time was no, but the tune would change when it was next to impossible to find something for dinner later on). The only thing that totally outnumbered the cameras were the beer cans. Booze sells at convenience stores throughout Korea, and no one (the law included) has any problem with drinking in public. So all around us, burly Aussies, Yanks and Canadians were either drinking soju straight from the bottle as they walked, or carried towers of tall cans of Hite beer. I saw a guy with a full back tattoo of Dali's The Elephants. The beer cans were stacked about as high as the Elephant's spindly-mosquito legs.

All inside the stores, cardboard walks had been set down for muddy feet, and dirty, drunken people left their hand-prints on the drink fridges. When in Rome.

We shared a few beers as our mud dried in the sun. My mohawk was now decidedly faux. As the rest of the gang got Chinese lunch, Riley and I went swimming. It was wonderful to float in the shallows and clean off the first batch of mud and just relax. This was the first time I'd been to the beach since I've been in Korea, so I was relishing the warm water and warm sun. After basking for a good while, we grabbed some Cobra beer (fun at the moment, a bit venomous in after-taste) and rejoined the group. The evening was coming on, and we meandered to our fancy, winding up at the mud spa/not-quite-Jjimjilbang and spent the better part of an hour in the tubs and steam rooms. It was slightly disappointing since the "mud bath" portion wasn't the thick, shallow quick-sand type pool I'd hoped, but more of a mud-water tub. In any case it was more invigoration, and sweat and cool showers before back out into the madness.

We reconvened at the Drama, and Riley and I embarked on a laborious task to find food. Since (obviously) Boryeong is a costal community, seafood was heavy on the menu. Despite being a Maritimer born and bred, I've never been a fan of the pulsating marine life on my dinner table. This would be an obstacle, since the strip near the beach was a veritable Clam-o-Rama, with seafood restaurants packed one right after another, all with tanks outside full of fresh clams, conch, squid, sea slug and/or cucumber, and even the occasional small shark. I'm sure this sound glorious to some, but I wasn't too turned on. Finding an alternative proved a bit tricky since neither of us can read Hangul, and the wait at the only pizza place was close to 2 hours. Defeated and brain-drained from the sun and hunger, we settled on a kindly old lady's chicken cart for some BBQ skewers and ddeokbokki (rice cakes in red pepper paste). After that it was more beer, beach and fireworks before we retired to our one bed room, tossing the second mattress on the floor for 6, slumber party style.

The next day was more beach, less mud. The mud situation wasn't in full tilt until later in the afternoon, so Riley and I rented an inner tube and hung out on the beach— flaving (a Newfoundlander friend's borrowed word for total relaxing). We took the tube and a few more beers to the ocean and floated and drank and just enjoyed complete peace of mind. It was glorious.

Soon, sadly it was time to go, so after some disappointing lunch we boarded the most packed bus I've ever had the displeasure of being on, and rode for what seemed like forever in traffic as backpack zippers chaffed my now horribly apparent sunburns. We missed our 4:30 train, and had to wait for two hours until the next. That brings us back to the opening of the hunched, painful standing room only ride back to Seoul on feet that could barely work, and as red as a bull-fighter's muleta.

It was a fantastic time, with good fun, good weather, and good company. The weekend saw me as both the filthiest and cleanest I've ever been in my life, more so even than mucking about in the slip buckets of my parent's pottery shop as a kid, and being baptized respectively.

Respectable records both, to have broken over two days.

Now I rest on "Constitution Day" with no school, covered in sesame-smelling burn ointment and enjoying what has become a 4 day holiday of pure and unadulterated flaving.

1 comment:

Pam said...

It sounds fantastic !!!!
I hope you will walk pain free soon!