|Dano Festival from above|
The beginning of Dano Festival was marked with a parade through the city streets. I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy much of it, as I was trying to teach children as it passed below our window. There is nothing more distracting to adults and children alike than a parade. How can I keep them interested in the material when I, myself, want to go outside and play.
I took advantage of the far from momentary distraction to ask students about Dano Festival. I learned a few things. First, it had a corporate sponsorship. That's cool, but I didn't see why it was important. When I expressed this disinterest, one of the boys stated that if I criticize Dano then I criticize all of Korea. I didn't want to criticize all of Korea. It wouldn't be in my best interest. Yet, I still didn't see why such-and-so company made it a special event...or Korean institution... Next, I discovered that the tradition of Dano Festival is based in Korean folklore. I could not repeat the story even if I tried. It has something to do with a bird and a woman, but the stories can be hard to decipher through the language barrier, and symbolism or metaphor are often entirely lost. There was a woman... and a bird...
At the end of the day, I decided that my students (as is often the case) did not know why Dano Festival exists. They knew it is a tradition. They knew it has historical importance and is tied to the Korean identity, spiritually and literally. They knew it is fun. But, they did not really get the simplest reason Dano was started. For that, I went to Wikipedia. It's to celebrate the end of the sowing season! And like so many festivals I went to as a youth, it is about farming.
Call me mad, but it seems like most cultures have festivals to celebrate agriculture. Historically at a county fair, you get to sell produce, visit with neighbors, and relax after a long period of thankless work. Today, fairs are more institution than anything else, but they are good institutions celebrating local identity before national, state, corporate, religious, race, etc. and meant to be positive and fun experiences for all involved, even those dirty-faced foreigners or out-of-towners.
Pride in one's nation, pride in one's faith or company, can be as negative as it can be positive. The line between patriotism and jingoism is a blurry one. But a person learns their personal identity through these thousand and one larger ones. The city/town/woods we grow up in will inevitably be as important a part of our identity as our parentage. Knowing that both the surrounding community and those from far away appreciate our home and it's own unique culture, can help us be proud and appreciative of theirs. For example, in one of my younger classes there was a group assignment to write about beautiful places in Korea. One boy looked at me and asked if Gangneung was beautiful. I said said yes, and the smile that appeared on his face could have melted ice. It was pride. The best kind of pride. After all, I come from a nation that literally translates to "Beautiful Country" and here I was calling his home beautiful. A local festival is meant to give a community the same kind of pride, encouraging both locals and outsiders to come and enjoy the beauty one cannot find anywhere else.
So what was Dano like? It was... like a street fair! Lots of food (lots and lots of fried food). Lots of stations had been set up by businesses, church groups, and normal people. Lots of entertainment with musicians and performers. There was a circus tent and rides. There were vendors selling everything imaginable. And, of course, there were many booths set up for children to do arts and crafts.
There were differences, as well. It lacked both a petting zoo or stables for farmers to auction off choice livestock, but as a whole what made Dano different from an American festival (county or street fair) was what it did have, and not what it lacked. The entertainment was very different. Performers included martial artists, mask dances, and a unique style of musician that could only be described as "bardic", being both clown and singer. There was a distinct style of wrestling and a giant swing. I watched a middle-aged woman giggling like a school girl on that swing.
More bizarre performers and participants came with Dano, perhaps as somewhat queerer institutions one could see every year. Beggars were more than prevalent during Dano. They were often crippled and handicapped, and would roll through the crowds behind music boxes. Buddhist monks set up booths for palm readings, and others would walk around the fairgrounds ringing bells and singing for donations. Some street performers would push carts through the crowds while joyously banging percussion instruments along with a prerecorded track and dancing. One elderly fellow took to the streets with a melodica, clad in women's clothing that was tattered in the back, so one could see his comical underwear underneath his stockings.
The above are all just a few examples of what you would be likely to see at Dano, and I'm sure there was a lot I missed. The experience was enjoyable and different, but strangely familiar. Among the most notable aspects of Dano was probably how much it felt like the kind of fairs one might see in the States, with the only exceptional differences being cultural foods and performances. The spirit was certainly the same. So, as I watched and wandered I was filled with both curiosity and nostalgia. It was a strange combination, and one well worth an adventure.
|Fun for the whole family!|