Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 13th Gimje Horizon Festival (Oct 1-2, 2011)

Wicker dragon at the back
 Taking a break from my heavy school schedule, I got a chance to give myself a short local trip for a couple of days. Kite flying was all I needed to know about the Gimje Horizon Festival (김제지평선축제) before deciding I could attend it. Accordingly, I signed up for the festival which lasted for 2 days organized by the International Friendship Club, Korea.  

Korean rice cake prepared by foreigners

Gimje is near the west coast of Korea, in North Jeolla Province and a great place to grow rice. It is the only region where Koreans can see horizon in landlocked area is what I learnt about Gimje after a brief research, hence the name of the festival, Gimje Horizon Festival. It is also called a place where the sky meets the ground.We eagerly took the festival shuttle bus to the festival venue from Seoul. I looked at the schedule and knew that it was going to keep us busy until the end of the day. After a rather tiring 2 hours or more long bus trip, we reached the festival venue. As always, there were list of new things to explore for the foreigners. Two huge dragon structure (wicker dragon) made out of huge bamboos were absolutely inviting with a traditional style singing concert going on at the entrance gate. 
rice cake on the table
This festival is mainly held in October since it is the harvesting season in Korea. Therefore, most of the activities are related to rice with the intention to educate people on Korean traditional rice culture, share the history with the foreigners and finally, to enjoy the new season. The men usually hold tug of war with the huge rope which is made out of rice straw. On the other hand, to officially show the opening of the festival, they have huge table with various colored rice cake that reads "Gimje Horizon Festival". Once the countdown starts, people start rushing to get their first rice cake made from the first harvest of the year. On these days you can also purchase various snacks and Korean traditional beverages made out of rice at cheaper rate. If you are not fond of rice, they even have food stalls set up for various foreign countries so that you can suit yourself. 
kite flying

One of the activities that all foreigners would want to experience is Korean dish preparing contest. On my visit, Bhutan and Laos got teamed up against 9 or more other teams. We had to prepare "Punched rice" (literal translation of 주먹밥) and rice cake. Obviously, there were some Korean ladies who lend us their hands. After few minutes of haste cooking, the judges went through the display of dishes and tried them. Laos and Bhutan team were on the second place which would be one of the most memorable experiences for me in Korea. 

One of the most amazing things were, there was World Record Kites still in the air which was mind blowing. At the end of the day, I heard that Gimje Horizon Festival is not only about flying kites but about how the common farming culture is celebrated in Korea (similar to other Asian nations).

Temple Stay in Korea

South Korea has become a home to various religions. Buddhist is one of the traditionally practiced religion in Korea influenced by Korean Confucianism since olden days. Despite the busy life, most of the people still practice their religion. For the tourist interested in Buddhism, temple stay offers unique cultural experience to practice Buddhism. Temple stay is designed to help people understand Korean Buddhism better and participants can find their "true self" amongst the harmony of nature while staying at a temple.

The program usually includes four main program. First, devotional chanting or ceremonial service which is done to praise Buddha. This service is held three times a day and said that it helps to clear one's mind. Secondly, "Zen Meditation" which is meant to allow a person to reflect on oneself. There are two forms of this meditation: a sitting-style meditation and a walking-meditation. The third program is communal Buddhist meal service which is a unique and special way of eating in Korean temples. At this communal meal practice the meal is eaten in total silence and not a single grain of rice is wasted. Finally, the tea ceremony which one of the practices of Buddhist religion. Korean traditionally believes that there are several ways to prepare and enjoy good tea.

I visited Geumsansa Temple in Jeollabul-do with the foreigner students through Korea Traditional Culture Experience Camp.To enjoy these activities, you can make a reservations before hand. There are other fun activities included such as impression making with ink and paper, lotus lantern making, and folk games in addition to the four activities that are mentioned above. The single reservations for temple stay is available in four temples and group with minimum of 15 people can make reservations in more than 9 temples in Korea. The reservations are to be made a week before your scheduled temple visit. Enjoying Korean temple stay can be one of the way to learn about a truly enlightening cultural experience.