Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival

Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
Trip End Nov 03, 2011

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

On our first day to just be tourists, we decided to venture to a festival that my husband had heard about at the Hwaseong Fortress. A quick chat at the hotel front desk, and shortly a taxi was pulling up outside. We handed the driver the card where the hotel clerk had written the name of our destination in Korean, and off we went. I had heard from some of my husband's coworkers that riding in a taxi was taking your like in your own hands. Our taxi driver seemed very tame compared to the stories. He did watch TV on the small screen in his dashboard while driving, which was a bit unnerving. But we arrived safely with no near misses (or hits).

The Hwaseong Fortress is a 3 1/2 mile wall surrounding the city center of Suwon. It was built in the late 1700's by King Jeongio to guard the tomb of his father. We didn't realize it when we decided to visit on a whim, but the Jeongjo Filial Piety Cultural Festival that was going on at the time is kind of a big deal. There were several tents featuring all sorts of foods and crafts and a huge parade, My husband had his first encounter with what I've dubbed the Korean paparazzi, where strangers take our photographs. In the states if a stranger takes your picture at an event, they try to sell it to you. Here they do it because we're such a novelty, sort of like exotic zoo animals.

The taxi had dropped us at the festival inside in the fortress, but we wanted to see the actual walls and gate, so after visiting a few tents, we walked back to the main gates. There were a lot more people just out side the main gate, as this was going to be the location of King Jeongjo's welcome reenactment performance, which would be followed by the start of the parade. As we moved through the very crowded gate onto the closed off street, a parade official directed us toward some bleachers that were setup nearby. We didn't quite understand why, but we had walked a long way and were more than happy for a seat, so we climbed the bleachers and sat down. It did seem strange to us that we would be offered a seat with a great view of the action, when there were hundreds of people lining the streets, most of whom were standing. We noticed the other people sitting in the bleachers were also all non-Koreans. They were wearing some kind of tour group badges from different countries, two that we saw were Australia and Russia. We figured out we had been assumed to be with the group and left (much to the annoyance of the parade official.) We learned later they were a delegation from Suwon's sister cities and had been given seats of honor to watch the performance and parade. And while the parade guys might have racially profiled us into the prime seats, since Suwon has no American sister city, the delegation members would have ousted us as soon as they heard us speak.

We went back into the crowd and purchased some kind of fried hot dog on stick that was so good it has forever ruined State Fair corny dogs for me. While watching the festivities, a older man gestured to us to come over to him, then handed us each a small paper cup into which he poured a liquid. It had a milky appearance and contained rice, when we tasted it, it was slightly sweet. Having Googled since then, my guess is it was Sikhye. We crossed the street to get a better view of the performance, and were remarking on the kindness of the stranger, when another man came up to us and through gestures offered us a drink. We politely thanked him and indicated we already drinks. Until now I'd found the Korean people to be a bit stand offish in a crowd. These two gentleman displayed a kindness we probably wouldn't have found in our own country. (Although in fairness, if a stranger on the street in the U.S. offered me a homemade drink, I wouldn't have had the same reaction. : )

While observing the very large crowd, I noticed two interesting things about baby strollers. One, Korean mother's hermetically seal their babies in their strollers with these plastic covers. They appear to be air tight, so it's a little disturbing. I also noticed more than one elderly woman leaning on a babyless-stroller weighed down in front with a brick, effectively using it as a make-shift walker.

We watched King Jeongjo's welcome reenactment performance, complete with dueling dancers, dread-locked Korean drummers, ninjas, horses and soldiers. Once the performance was complete, we decided to watch the parade from the top of the main gate ((My husband is reading the Song of Ice and Fire series and got to use his newly acquired vocabulary of castle terms giving me the grand tour. You just normally don't get to use phrases like ramparts and crenelations in everyday conversation.)

We found a great spot directly over the gate with a fantastic view of the parade. My husband commented how odd it was that we were able to find such a great spot in a crowd of this size, I pointed out that we were probably the only people present tall enough to see over the 5 1/2 foot wall. We watched the parade (which included a Korean jazz band doing a fabulous rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching in"), and then wandered along the top of the fortress wall and then back inside the walls to the festival tents.
We went in search of dinner and wandered a little off the beaten path, and stumbled (but didn't enter) of a few of the restaurants we'd been warned about. We finally settled on a tiny innocent looking hot dog shop that had pictures on the menu. After our second hot dog of the day, we decided to head home. The trouble was "home" was still several miles away, and nary a cab in sight. My husband had taken a picture of a map on the fortress gate and was able to navigate us in the right direction. And shortly into our long walk, he was able to flag down a Taxi that delivered us back to the Ibis.
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