Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seoul Fringe Festival 2010

The 13th Seoul Fringe Festival has just kicked off its start in the Hongdae area, near the Hongik University and for the next two weeks or so, from August 12 to the 28, it will be the hive of activity in Seoul. The university is well known for its art-related studies and it is only natural that there are a lot of art galleries in the vicinity. Even on ordinary days Hongdae can be considered as one of the most vivid places in Seoul. Hongdae is also where most Koreans hang out as there are many good cafes and restaurants here, with great places to shop as well. But during this festival there will be much more. There will be lots of live performances in the streets, and art centers.

The festival originally began as an ‘Independent Arts Festival’ in 1998 and has now grown into a major event in Seoul. Festivities will take place all across the Hongdae area as 40 different locations both indoors and outdoors will serve as the stage for a variety of performances including drama, dance, musicals, and live indie rock concerts.
The Indoor portion of the art festival features over 200 plays, dances, mime performances, puppet shows, and interpretive dances by 120 performance teams, including ‘Traveling Alone’ by mime Taegeon Lee, ‘A Proposal Song’ by 4Audience Production, and ‘Chatter Hits the Road’ by choreographer Junghyun Kim. Tickets to the indoor performances range in price from 5,000 won to 15,000 won.
This year’s special overseas guests include ‘Clear Life’ by Vera Chen from Taiwan and ‘A dialogue on love: Lin Dai Yu Vs Juliet Capulet’ by Owen Lee, a mime from Hong Kong.

Outdoor street art festivities are open to all visitors, free of charge! Everyone is invited to enjoy improvisational dances such as ‘On a Trip’ by USD Modern Dance and ‘Fringe Travel’ by Et Aussi Dance. Performance artists and indie bands will be performing throughout the entire area, even in parking lots and on rooftops!
‘Ten Nights of Dreams’ performance by ‘Thursday 1pm,’ and ‘Looking for Normal’ by the group ‘Praxis’ add to the fun by allowing the audience to become part of the show!
So if you happen to be in Seoul during this time, this is an event not to be missed. I’m including a video ‘Seoul Fringe Festival 2009 on DiscoveringKorea.com’ so that it will give you an idea of what to expect during the festival.

What is a fringe festival, you might ask? Well from what I picked up from the KTO’s website this is what it’s all about.

‘Fringe’ means a cultural festival, where ‘future-oriented’ young artists come together to present their works of art such as paintings, music and street performances. The fringe festival originally began in Edinburgh, Scotland, and since then it has spread widely across the world. Currently, there are 70 Fringe festivals being held worldwide including Korea.
Since 1998, ‘Seoul Fringe Festival’ which originated from the Asian Fringe Festival has been held in about 20 artistic places such as small theaters, live theaters, and galleries around Hongik University in Seoul. At present, about three hundred teams from seven countries including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Macao, Japan, India, and Korea participate in the festival, and more than two hundred thousand spectators enjoy this large-scale art and culture festival.
Seoul Fringe Festival consists of a Music Festival, a Visual Arts Festival, an Asian Independent Film Festival, a Performing Arts Festival, and a Street Festival. In the Music Festival, Goseongbangga, which are various genres of music including rock music, traditional Korean classical music, dancing music, etc. will be presented by about one hundred bands at fourteen clubs in front of Hongik University.
The Visual Arts Festival, Naebugongsa, presents various art exhibitions and architectural planning exhibitions of domestic and foreign artists, which is free of charge. Starting in 2005, a special performance of making an ecological map using flowers and leaves which spectators collected around Hongik University.

The Performing Arts Festival, Igudongseong, presents various genres of performing arts including dance, performance, mime, jazz dance, etc. at small theaters located near Hongik University, and there is no screening tests or selection procedures for entry only volunteers. The Street Festival, Junggunanbang, in which various exhibitions and performances can be enjoyed on the street, is called ‘The Flower of the Fringe festival’ and presented freely on the street.
Make sure to check out Hongik University’s Club Day, which is on the last Friday of August. For only 15,000 won, music and dance can be enjoyed thoroughly by freely entering various clubs in the areas around Hongik University.

The best time to enjoy the club day is from 10 o’clock at night till 5 o’clock in the morning. The spirit of Korean underground music culture can be seen at Club Day, which will double the pleasure of the Seoul Fringe Festival.
Don’t know how to get there? Take the subway. Take Line 2, get out at Exit 5 of Hongik University subway station. Walk straight for 50 meters. Go through the alley between VIPS and Pizza Hut and walk straight for another 70 meters to the front gate of Hongik University
Walk in the direction of the street with the clubs and theaters on the right side towards Far East Broadcasting Co. (Geukdong Broadcasting Co.)

So I hope that you all will have a great time at the Seoul Fringe Festival! Wish I were there as this is what I’d like to see and do. So till next time 안녕하세요

Special thanks and appreciation to the following:
Photos and articles © courtesy

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Korean Funeral Rites

I know I have been neglecting my blog and I have no excuse for it except that I have of late, become addicted to watching Korean dramas on-line. Not only am I watching one drama at a time. I am currently following five, ‘Family’s Honor,’ ‘Bad Guy, ‘Dong Yi,’ ‘Baker King, Kim Tak Goo,’ aka ‘Bread Love and Dreams,’ and ‘Road No. 1.’ You see most of the dramas are on-going and are only released 2 episodes at a time (due to the translations that have to be done.) ‘Family’s Honor’ and ‘Bad Guy’ have just ended and it looks like I have to start on two more new dramas. Good thing, otherwise I will still be not writing this post today.

‘Family’s Honor’ is a good example of Korean Family Values that have been carried down from one generation to another, i.e.

i) The family is the most important part of Korean life.

ii) In Confucian tradition, the father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to approve the marriages of family members.

iii) The eldest son has special duties: first to his parents, then to his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters.

iv) Family welfare is much more important than the needs of the individual.

v) Members of the family are tied to each other because the actions of one family member reflect on the rest of the family.

‘Family’s Honor’ and ‘Baker King, Kim Tak Gu,’ portrayed scenes of death, funeral, etc. and from where I got the inspiration for my subject matter in today’s post. How many of us non-Koreans know about Korean traditional funeral rites etc. few I’m sure? The whole process is quite complicated, if you ask me.

Koreans believed that if someone passed away from home, that person's spirit would wander and become a ghost. Therefore they did all that they could to make sure a person died at home, and not alone.

By the way, did you know that according to Confucian standards, only people of the same gender could witness a death? This means that a husband was not able to witness or be present at the death of his wife and vice versa.

Upon the death of a person, the mourners put on simple garments appropriate for the occasion. The men wore sleeveless coats and the women, no jewellery and accessories, and refrained from combing their hair. The corpse would be laid with the hands and feet bound tightly together. One of the relatives would then take a coat of the deceased to the roof of the house and called out his or her name three times. Then, the coat was taken back into the house and used as a cover for the corpse. This ritual was called chohon or gobok .

The first son of the deceased would assume the role of the sangju, basically the master of ceremonies. Traditionally the sangju would wear clothes and hats made out of hemp, but nowadays they simply wear black suits and hemp hats. The relatives of the deceased are also supposed to wear the hemp clothes, but that has been done away with by the majority of Koreans nowadays. Both the sangju and the relatives are supposed to wear a black ribbon either on the chest or on an arm, but now only the sangju wears it.

The day following the death of the deceased, preparations would usually be made for the burial. The first of these preparations called seup, involved the bathing and the dressing up of the corpse which was usually done at a funeral home. Koreans don’t embalm the dead. The bath water was perfumed and after the corpse has been wiped dry, the hair would be combed and any fallen hair carefully collected. Finger and toe nails would then be manicured and the clippings collected. The fallen hair and the clippings were then placed in five small pouches called, joballang, which would be then placed in the coffin together with the corpse. Three spoons of rice would be fed to the corpse with a wooden spoon made from the willow tree. As the first spoonful was being fed, a person close to the deceased would call out, "Ilcheonseogiyo ," meaning one thousand bags of rice. On the second and third spoonful, the man would make further calls and some coins would be inserted in the cavity. It was believed that the journey by the deceased soul to the next world would be eased by the rice and money the family had bestowed upon the departed. Seup would be followed by the process of yeom , in which the corpse would be wrapped in suui made from hemp or silk. After the corpse had been dressed in the suui, it would then be wrapped with a quilted cloth called yeompo made of hemp cloth; the corpse would then be bound with ropes seven times before being put into the coffin.

The coffin would be set behind a partition or a black curtain, and a makeshift shrine would then be set up called binso where a photo of the deceased including candles, and incense would be placed on a table. A black ribbon would be put on the photo at this time. Sangju sits next to the table on a coarse mat – the mat is coarse because sangju must atone for the sin of allowing his parent to die. This would be where the mourners would receive the guests. Then, the family of the deceased would dress themselves in the appropriate mourning attire, called sangbok , which varied in length according to the family member's relationship with the deceased.

Korean funerals would generally last for three days. However, it was also based on a variety of factors, which included the social status of the family, the social position of the deceased, and so on. In the 18th century, the duration of the mourning period was over a month for scholars. Others lasted for odd-numbered days (three, five, or seven days). If the mourners were to wander outdoors, they had to wear a large-brimmed headpiece made of bamboo called banggat so as to obstruct the view of the heavens. Enduring these very uncomfortable living conditions was viewed as an expression of filial piety.
On the last day, the funeral procession would be held. Traditionally, the sangju and his relatives carried the coffin all the way to the burying ground, but now Koreans use a hearse. The coffin is taken to a pre-arranged burial ground, which is near other family members' burial sites. Typically, an extended family owns a small mountain and sets up burial sites for the entire family, past, present and future. The Korean himself already knows where he will be buried when he dies. Before it leaves, a short ceremony would be held in honor of the deceased; when the personal history of the deceased would be told, and the people would eulogize and offer incense.

Leading the procession would be persons carrying funeral banners. The hearse would be decorated with dragons and Chinese phoenix paintings. Around the hearse, colorfully decorated dolls would be placed to guard the deceased. The procession leader would sing a deep and mournful song; at the back of the hearse, family members, relatives and friends would follow. At the grave site, a shaman who had been called upon for the occasion would perform a special ritual to exorcise evil spirits from the grave. At a predetermined time, the coffin would then be lowered and the sangju (or in the case of the death of a child, the father) would take a deep bow. Then, taking some earth, he would cast it upon the coffin. He would do this twice. Other family members would then follow, in turn, doing the same rituals known as chwito . After the chwito was complete, hired workers would finish covering the grave with earth.
The earth would be packed into a mound shape to prevent water seepage. Called dalgujil , this process of packing the earth by stamping on it was done to the accompaniment of music. It also had to be done in odd-numbered layers (usually three or five layers).

The mound is then covered with grass. On the right bottom side of the mound, a small stone with the name of the dead would be buried so that the grave could be identified even though the mound would have eroded away. The tombstone would be set up in front of the grave, and a brief ceremony would be held once again.

As soon as the mourners returned home from the funeral service, they would place a picture and an ancestral tablet in a room at the front portion of their house.

Two days after the burial, family mourners would visit the grave again to offer food and drinks at the grave and to perform the bowing. Only then did the family members return to their respective homes. Jolgokje, another memorial service, was performed one or two days after the second visit to the grave site. On this day, family members would put away all of the funeral paraphernalia and the mourning rituals would come to an end.

Sometimes, in cases where the death occurred outside the home, like in a hospital, the casket would be placed in a funeral home for the wake, and where all the ceremonies prior to the funeral would be performed. Usually these funeral homes can be found on the lower level floors of the hospitals.

When guests first arrive they head for the greeting room. When you get to the room, there will be a small desk with someone sitting behind it and a large box for donations. It is expected and customary that everyone going to the wake/funeral should make a donation or “condolence money” so to speak. The money is usually put in a white envelope that says 謹弔. (The Chinese characters roughly mean “I am sorry for your loss.”) How much? Donations usually get bigger the closer you are to the bereaved, but the nominal sum is around 30,000 won. Be sure to write your name on the back of the envelope, because the family would like to keep track of who has come and who has made which donations.

There will also be a book, sitting on the desk next to the donations box, with a pen. After you have dropped your envelope into the box, you sign your name in the book. At times the person sitting at the desk behind the book will take your donation envelope and sign your name for you in the book.
Sometimes people do the donation and sign-in steps after they are done with the bows and on their way out of the room. This is also acceptable.

Important people or organizations who have some connection with the family of the deceased will send large flower stands made up mostly of chrysanthemums with two long black-and-white ribbons. One side of the ribbon will have a message of condolence and the other side will give the details of the senders.

Here I would like to mention some rules of etiquette to be observed when attending a funeral.

Anyone who is engaged to be married and has set a date for the wedding is not supposed to attend a funeral as it is believed to bring bad luck.

What sort of attire? For men, a black or dark-colored suit and tie would be appropriate. For ladies, anything in black would be considered appropriate, Bright colors, and especially the color red, are most inappropriate.

You should take your shoes off, just as if you were entering a house before you go into the greeting room. If someone else is in the room doing their bows, wait until they finish and come back to put their shoes on before you enter.
At some funerals, they will have a large vase filled with chrysanthemums that is sitting by the shoe pit. If they have these flowers, you should take one on your way into the room. If you have picked up a chrysanthemum, place it in front of the photo where the other chrysanthemums are piled, or where they have cleared off space to place them. The stem should face you. If not, just go straight in, to the front of the picture of the deceased.

The next step is to burn some incense. In front of the picture of the deceased facing the picture of the deceased, do one full bow, ending in a crouched position, facing the floor. Hold the crouched position for a moment. Get back up on your feet and repeat.

After bowing to the deceased, turn to face the relatives and do the same full-bow one time, followed by a bow from the waist. Some people say that female visitors should omit the full bow during this step and just offer a bow from the waist.

You walk back over to the shoe-pit, put on your shoes and walk out of the room. They will be having food served somewhere in the funeral hall and will usually guide you to the site. Depending on the size of the crowd, some members of the bereaved family may come by to chat while you eat. You can eat at your own pace and, when you are done, stand up and go.

Well, guess that’s about it for now. See you around next time.