Friday, October 8, 2010

Masks and Birthday Fun!

Whoa, well a lot has happened since my last blog post.  Not literally, of course, as I just got around to actually posting it yesterday, but in real life, things have certainly been on the move.

I returned from Japan on Saturday, and on Sunday a group of us went down to Seoul Forest to watch the Seoul Drum Festival.  I knew people who went last year and raved about it, so I was pretty excited to go for an evening of performances.  It was excellent, aside from being quite chilly for the first time in memory.  After grabbing some food, Lee-Rae, Michael, Shannon, Jamie, Chrissy and I got seats and watched percussionists from Korea, Japan and Indonesia perform.  Indonesia also brought some dancers, one of whom was the most off-beat, uncoordinated dancer I've seen in a while.  We couldn't stop laughing.  Korea was the best for sure, and that is NOT because I am biased...just like in the R16 B-Boy Championship, Korea represented well in their home country.

View of the stage from our seats.

Korean clang-clang-clang troupe representing!

Next, some exciting news: I got my laptop back last Tuesday, thank GOD.  They put in a new (bigger, 320GB instead of 250GB) hard drive and installed Windows for roughly $170 USD.  I am pretty sure there is NO WHERE in the US where I could have gotten it done anywhere near that cheap!  Renee said when she took her Sony in to be looked at they were going to charge her $130 for diagnostics.  Anyway, it was like being reunited with a long lost, and sorely missed, friend.  It took me a few days to get everything back on it as far as programs go, but thanks to tireless effort from my Dad, it all worked out and I'm back and as good as/better than I was before.  So that is awesome.

Last Wednesday night we had a relaxing meet up at 4C Garten, where we just basically got to catch up and vent, as per usual...but this time with multi-story beers!  We also got to meet Desmond's fiancee, Serena, which was great because we are all going to their wedding this weekend in Daegu.  Look forward to a post about that!  Last Thursday night I went with three new girls (Lee-Rae, Erika and Josephine) and Shannon to sign up for hagwon classes for Korean.  Yup, I am biting the bullet and learning Korean.  We decided to go to YBM Sisa, which is located at the Jongno-3-ga Station, about 30 minutes from our house.  It is only 115,000won (roughly $100) for a month with ten classes.  We go every Monday and Wednesday, and alternating Fridays.  But more on that later.  After signing up Erika went to meet her friends for dinner and the rest of us went to an amazing restaurant near our hagwon and had absolutely delicious stew.  We will be repeating that often. (In fact we repeated it tonight.)

Last weekend was something I've been looking forward to a long, not my 25th birthday (though that was exciting, too)...the Andong International Mask Dance Festival.  I badly wanted to attend last year, but it was cancelled due to H1N1 (so thankful THAT is behind us).  Performers come from around the world to showcase their (extensive and varied) talents in this little town called Andong that is in the central part of eastern Korea.  Andong is called one of the most Korean places in Korea, and it is one of the few cities where big groups of people still live in traditional style homes and hanoks. Andong also has a number of places you can stay in traditional homes, and I jumped on that as soon as I heard about it.  I made us reservations at Imcheonggak, an estate built during the Joseon Dynasty in the 1519.  At that time there was a restriction on how many rooms your home could have, limiting the count to 100.  Lee Sang-ryong, the owner of the house and later the first prime minister of the provisional government of the Republic of Korea, built his house with 99 rooms.  Only about fifty of the rooms survived and the grounds were cut in half by a train line that Japan created during their regime, but it is still REALLY cool.  We actually got put into our own pavilion, which was the original home of the family and possibly where Lee Sang-ryong was born.  AWESOME!  There was a big central room with old wood floors, and two smaller heated rooms with padded floors off to the sides.  We had a refrigerator and the lovely woman in charge provided us with water and some drinks.  For only 200,000won a night (split ten ways), it was a steal.  

Inspecting the main room.

Other buildings on the compound.

Our home for the weekend (please note the terrifying, steep, stone steps...damn you, Asia).

Imcheonggak complex.

The remaining few on the last morning.  Shannon is a self timer genius.

Friday night eight of us (Shannon, Jamie, Dave, Chrissy, Erich, Derek, Julia and I) met up at the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, grabbed some food, and boarded an express bus for Andong.  Just about three hours later we arrived, debussed, bought some essentials at a 7-11, and attempted to find a taxi that would take us to our hotel.  The website had fairly simple directions: come to Andong Bus Terminal, take a taxi to Imcheonggak.  It didn't mention anything about all of the taxi drivers refusing to take us because it was within the base fare and having to schlep heavy bags on a twenty-minute walk based on vague directions.  Over it.  We arrived and settled in to play some games, drink, decorate birthday sugar cookies Shannon baked, and eat a Hello Kitty birthday cake provided by Laura after she and Dana arrived on a later bus.  Let me just say, it was eight billion times better than my last birthday.  

Shannon posing with the birthday cookie she decorated for me.  It was tasty!

A REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUP CHEERS?!?!  Best birthday ever.

Why...hello, kitty. (This cake was surprisingly delicious.)

Finally we all tuckered out and decided it was time to crash.  Since I get so hot at night, I do not love sleeping on heated ondol floors.  I cook alive.  Therefore, Erich and I decided to stay out in the main room for the night.  Uh...we knew it wasn't heated, but what we didn't realize until the next morning was that there were big gaps between the floorboards allowing cold air from the open space beneath the building to constantly blow on you all night.  The floor boards didn't even retain any body was FREEZING.  I usually sleep in a tank top and pj pants, but I was still shivering in multiple layers including a turtleneck and extra socks!  Brr. The next morning we woke up and took turns showering in the community bathrooms.  The proprietor brought us over tasty boiled potatoes with sugar, pajeon, and little yogurt drinks.  It was lovely and gave us the energy to forge onward!  We walked back down to the city and hailed taxis to take us out to Andong Hahoe Village, which is one of Korea's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  It is also VERY cool.  Mostly surrounded by a river, this cluster of traditional homes has been inhabited by descendants of the same families for many years.  It is full of beautiful little alleys and stunning architecture.  The first thing we did when we arrived was settle down and grab some food.  We all agreed to try one of Andong's specialties, Andong jjimdak.  Made by cooking chicken, peppers, veggies, and cellophane noodles over high heat, this is a fantastic dish and we inhaled it.

Gate in the Hahoe Village.

Ajummas out for a lovely stroll.

You know how enamored with Asian roofs I am.

Posing with our jjimdak.


These guys were CHAMPIONS.

And Erich might have been MVP.

Told you we decimated it.

After our hunger was sated, we headed down to the main part of the village, where the stage was located.  Following the sounds of drumming, we quickly found the first performance at a lovely outdoor stage in the pine forest along the river.  We sat down and watched a troupe from China give an awesome performance with really powerful, graceful dancing.  It was great.

I learned fairly quickly that the faces of traditional Chinese masks are straight out of a NIGHTMARE.

China's boys.

China's lovely.

After the Chinese dancers were done, we walked down the path a bit and found ourselves on a playground for traditional Korean games. The real draw was neoldduigi (널뛰기), a game where two people stand on opposite ends of a heavy wooden seesaw and as one jumps on the board the other is propelled into the air.  Let me tell you...we have some professionals in our midst.  It was hilarious to watch, and they assured us that it was pretty exhausting.

Dude, look at how high Erich is!

There are two things I know: Jamie was a great launcher...and Shannon's hair makes me giggle.

Once the kiddies had worn themselves out, we decided to walk through the village in search of Samsindang, a 600 year old zelkova tree that is on the highest point in the village.  It is believed that this tree is inhabited by a goddess, and people come from all over to pray at the tree and leave slips of paper with their wishes and desires.  For being a big ass tree in the center of a village, it is not the easiest thing to find.  By the end of our trek I couldn't care less about the tree, but Shannon stuck it out and found it, so we were all able to leave our wishes.On our way out of the village we found an area where someone had placed a bunch of carved totems. They were very fun to explore, as was the small white dog I played with there.


Tying my wish to the rope.

Lots of wishes.

Beautiful views.  I love the color of rice paddies.


Everybody's smiling!

Next, it was time to head back to downtown Andong and find the rest of the festival.  We caught the bus back into town and walked about 15-20 minutes to the main fairgrounds.  The performance hall we were aiming for  was on the opposite end of the grounds, so we took our time walking down an avenue with all sorts of fair-like food offerings (mmm, corndog) and carnival games that the boys kept stopping to play.  Our motley crew threw darts, threw money, shot baskets, and shot stuffed animals, all in search of fame, glory, and kitschy prizes.  I'll let you guess which one of the three we ended up with. On our way we also stopped to watch an adorable taekwondo performance and some Korean belly dancers.

Main festival grounds in Andong.


Dart game.

Basketball game.

Shooting game.

Quick group pic next to the inflatable mask truck.

Excellent taekwondo kids.
Belly dancers...sans belly.

Then it was arts and crafts time!  Also known as, Meaghan Happy Time.  Dana, Derek and Laura went off to watch some dancing, while Jamie, Shannon, Chrissy and I sat down and got to work (later Dave, Julia and Erich also made masks).  We were allowed to pick a plaster mask template, and then we were given instructions on how to place layers of hanji (Korean paper) over the template and beat it down so it filled in every nook and cranny.  Shannon spent a lot of time trying to make friends with the Korean 10-year-old girl next to her, but had little luck.  When we were done they took our masks and put them in a heat drying chamber for a while to harden them up so that we were able to pick them up later.  It was a lot of fun.


Template and hanji.




(Terrifying) Dave



While our masks were drying we decided to walk around and look at the vendor tables for a bit.  They had everything from masks, to puppets, to food and alcohol. We did a little shopping and then, as it began to drizzle, found ourselves on the main plaza where performances were happening. Groups of ajummas (middle aged Korean women) would troop out onto the stage in sparkly outfits and do a synchronized dance of some sort. To sum it up, they were pretty hilarious.  However, as we watched it started to rain harder and harder and people were popping up their umbrellas right in front of everyone watching.  ANNOYING.  After a while we escaped the rain, picked up our masks, and found a place to eat.  

Ajumma belly dancers.

Gettin' jiggy with it.

After consuming some tasty but very expensive pork, we went out to the main street and attempted to hail taxis back to the hotel.  Since there were 10 of us we had to split up into three taxis and Chrissy, Julia and I (in the last taxi), returned back to the hotel about a half an hour after the first group got there.  It would have been faster if a bunch of assholes hadn't kept cutting us off and stealing our taxi.  At one point Julia got so angry she shook her umbrella inside out...I think that taught them, haha.  That night we played some delightful games including Fluxx (actually a really fun card game...I might have to get this when I come home), and off-brand Jenga.  This time I chose to sleep in the room with the fridge which was a lot warmer while not oppressively so.  Win win!


He could be a Jenga commercial.

Sunday morning while we were getting ready Shannon walked down the street to a pagoda that we had seen and took some pictures. It turns out that it is the oldest and tallest brick pagoda in Korea.  This seven-tier pagoda used to be part of a temple and was originally built in the eighth century, and the last time it was restored was in 1478.  FOURTEEN SEVENTY-EIGHT! THAT IS CRAZYTOWN.  And, thanks to Shannon, we have pictures of it.


Derek, Dana and Chrissy had to get back to Seoul, so they left first thing in the morning as the rest of us pulled ourselves together for the day.  After packing up all of our stuff, we lugged it downtown and left it at the train station before heading back to the festival grounds.  We headed straight for the main performance hall, bout our ticket for the day, and settled down to watch some fantastic dancing.  The day started with a performance by a troupe from Mexico and they were fabulous.  They had such variety in their costumes and dances that it was a pleasure to watch them for an hour.  Erich, Julia and Laura headed back to Seoul when they were done.

I bet that headdress was heavy.

Traditional dance.

I wanted to steal their skirts.

After Mexico was done, the four survivors (Shannon, Jamie, Dave and I) skipped out on a Korean mask dance and went to do a little more browsing of shop stalls, free food sampling, and viewing of bonsai trees and children's mask dance related artwork.  Shannon really wanted to go to a Learn To Mask Dance session, but it was (sadly) cancelled.  Luckily, however, we stumbled upon a wonderful traditional performance that occurs every autumn in Andong.  It is hard to explain...basically there are two teams, red and blue.  Hundreds of young men dressed in white are adorned with bandanas the color of their team.  On their shoulders they hoist a large, wooden structure on which a man clad in their color rides.  This man gives the orders and is carried around by the throngs of boys.  The two teams battle each other, resulting in many occasions where the wooden structures rear up into the air and the riders have to demonstrate their impressive balance and arm strength.  It was fascinating to watch.  

Awesome artwork.

All done by local kids.

Harvest festival performance.

Battle mode.

When the performance was over we decimated a roasted chicken and went back into the performance hall to watch a Thai dance troupe.  Honestly, I expected a little more...but they were still good.  They had a lot of audience participation, which people enjoyed, and their fight dancing was great.   

View of the stage from the top row.

Thai dancers.

We ended up having to leave our last performance a little early to walk back to the train station, pick up our luggage, walk to the bus station, and head back to Seoul.  I arrived home around 8:30pm on Sunday night, tired after a great weekend with spectacular friends, good memories, and multiple cultural experiences.  Andong Mask Dance Festival is a MUST ATTEND in my opinion.  Below is a compilation of some of the various performances we saw over the course of the weekend, including ajumma jazzercise/ballroom, Korean bellydancing (complete with adorable little boy), Mexican traditional dancing, Mexican line dancing, taekwondo, and Thai dance fighting.  They were all awesome.

Andong International Mask Dance Festival from Meaghan Shanahan on Vimeo.

I just want to send out an extra special thank you to the extra special people who make my life in Korea awesome.  I would literally lose my mind without you guys.

Dana, Dave, Laura, Chrissy, Julia, Jamie, Erich, Shannon, and Derek, you all rule.

And now, for a special bonus (especially for those of you who have voted in the GoOverseas Top Blog of Korea competition), may I present my adorable third graders doing a dance to the song from our textbook about what they can and cannot do. These guys are one of the many things I love about my job.

Third Graders Singing from Meaghan Shanahan on Vimeo.


  1. Yikes! This was a pictastic entry. It made me Korea-sick to look through your snaps though, and that jjimdak looks amazing. I'm definitely going to look that up when I get back next year.

    Out of curiosity, what kind of camera do you use?

  2. The jjimdak was amazing.

    I use a 12.1 megapixel Cannon PowerShot Digital Elph SD1300 IS. All last year I had a different PowerShot and then when I lost my camera at home this summer I upgraded to this guy.

  3. I am going to Seoul soon and I am thinking of getting a SD1300 IS for this occasion. Do you think it is wise? Are you happy with this camera?

  4. I am quite happy with this camera. It has a variety of settings that can help make getting a great photo easier, and takes nice, high resolution pictures. The only thing I wish it had was a stronger zoom. Aside from that, I love it.