[personal profile] niori_1709
By this point in time, I feel you've probably realized I go to a lot of festivals. Historical festivals, cultural festivals, nature festivals, and party festivals...I hit them all. Occasionally, there's one I come across that makes me stop and say 'Wait, what?'. I like to think of them as the 'huh?' festivals., or the ones that sound so random that I'm left wondering who even came up with that idea (Mudfest, previously written about, is one of those examples). Another of these examples is the Jindo Miracle Sea Road/Sea Parting Festival. I'll admit that when I hear the words 'sea parting' my Western mind automatically goes in a Biblical direction. That's where the 'What?' came in, because the South-West coast of South Korea is not the first place that I think of the Bible's version of a sea parting. So of course I needed to do a little research, get my tail down there, and see what was up for myself.

As it turns out, it's not about that version of parting seas at all (though, hilariously, there was a man dressed up as Moses wandering around)- not that I actually thought it was. This festival celebrates a very different occasion. It's a much more simple yet heart warming story, to be honest. Once upon a time, in Hoedong Village, a tiger was stalking about, so the people of the village decided to move to the island (Modo) just across the water. They left Grandmother Ppong behind (and just never took a boat back to get her, apparently? Folk tales never really make much sense, do they?). Surprising no one, Grandmother missed her family, so she prayed to the spirit of the Dragon King to help her out. The Dragon King, sea spirit that he was, felt sorry for her and promised to make a bridge to the island. The bridge appeared, and the people on the other side noticed it as well, and finally started to come back for Grandmother (and with a flourish- drums, gongs, and all). When they got there, Grandmother was overjoyed at seeing her family again...and thus she died happily. To honour her, they changed the name of the village and moved back (apparently the tiger just went away at some point? It never gets mentioned again). Every year, when the same ;and bridge appears, the people on both celebrate with ceremonies. Thus the Sea Road Festival was born.

That's the folklore. Here's the science. Jindo is an island (third largest in the country) just off Korea's south-east corner in the Yellow/East China Sea. It's an area that has some pretty strong tides. Everyone from St. Martins knows exactly how extreme tides can change the landscape, and Jindo is another place in the world that proves this. A few times a year (but most obviously in the Spring, when the festival is), the perfect storm of tide harmonics comes together to part the sea for us. The extreme low tide, the rotation of the Earth, and phase of the moon all line up, and the road appears. The pathway that stretches between Jindo to Modo Island is actually a 2.5 Km, 40m wide sand dune (sadly not a magic bridge made by the Dragon King), and the name of the festival is actually a misnomer. It does, in fact, look like the sea just parted down the middle, revealing the path. The reality is far less magical- it's just the tide lowers enough that the dune, higher than the rest of the ground, stands out. It's not a straight line, but kind of snakes around a little bit, and it's exposed (to varying degrees) for roughly an hour a day for about five days in early Spring. Honestly, I prefer the magic version with the tiger, so I'm going to go with that one.

So there's the background, and here's the festival. As said, the festival is said supposed to celebrate the Dragon King's creating the bridge for Grandmother, so a lot of that storytelling and imagery is throughout the festival. The whole festival begins with a memorial ritual for Grandmother, as well as actors/singers/dancers acting out the whole story. The history behind the festival is everywhere, but it's not so much the main event. The main event (which happens at a different time every day, depending on the tide) is the torch parade. For me, it came at five in the morning. It was still pitch black when we stumbled out into the brisk morning, and there weren't even any stars in the overcast sky. We moved towards the sea front area, along with at least a thousand other people there for the same reason. We all found our way to the booth they had set up, handing out the torches. When I first heard 'torch', I really hoped that I would be getting one of those old fashioned things to carry around, but it was not to be. Instead, we got (oddly enough) those big tiki torches that you can find in a lot of gardens. They're actually a lot heavier to carry around than you'd think, and it was pretty cumbersome making sure to keep it high and upright (the line ends up packed, and you need to hold it steady enough so it's not knocking into the other torches or people holding them). While that was a bit disappointing, getting to told a lit torch was walking was still pretty cool, so I wouldn't call it a downside (and if you go, make sure you get there early, otherwise all the torches will be gone). Then, once the torch is lit, you go and wait in a very appropriate place. Right on the edge of the water area, there's a statue. It's not a big elaborate thing, just a block on stone with two figures standing on the top. One of those figures is a fierce looking tiger, looking in the midst of a prowl. It certainly looked dangerous, and I can fully understand why you'd be willing to pack up your village and flee if one was poking around. Beside the tiger, is a woman on her knees, praying. This is the grandmother, a pained look on her face, looking over the water. Her eye line is straight towards the island, and the sculptor did a very good job carving her sorrow into the stone. This is the place where the grandmother prayed and waited, so it's only fitting this is the place where the festival goers began their pseudo exodus.

Finally, after what felt like a very long time, the tide had finally gone down to its lowest, and it began. I can't claim that this was the most exciting thing I've done in Korea- literally, all it is holding a torch while walking in a line across some water with a massive group of other people. On paper, that doesn't sound all that appealing, and I can admit that easily. However, there is quite the atmosphere around it, and that made it worth it. It felt very journey like, the moment you step out into what should be a deep sea. The steps that come after it, when you know it should be getting deeper and deeper, are even more daunting. You know the ground is there to meet you, but in the darkness, you can barely see where you're walking, so the one thing is in the back of your mind- what happens if the ground isn't quite where it's supposed to be when my foot comes down? The torches were barely enough to see the dark water, for all that there were hundreds of them. There was just the flickering torch light above you and a slowly appearing speck of an island as the sun slowly began to rise. It was a long, long line, trudging through water that was calf deep but should have been far over my head (at certain times the water recedes completely and there is a fully walkable sand dune, but that's only at the very peak times. I wasn't able to go at those times because they were in the middle of the week, so my walk was when the water was low enough to walk through in rubber boots. That said, that actually added a bit of anxiety to the whole thing. I was pretty legitimately worried about my clumsy self tripping and getting a mouthful of salt water). We were all silent, and that was what also made this feel like some sort of journey. There was no chatter, no laughing back and fourth. It was probably just because it was so early, but the hush almost felt like a part of the experience. I stayed silent because it felt like the proper thing to do, and because it gave me time to let my imagination run wild. I thought about the story behind it all, and the author in me changed it around a bit because I could picture this alternate version so well as I went along. I imagined the people of that village, waiting until the tide was low enough, and then taking whatever they could carry as they fled the tiger that was terrorizing them. It would be slow going, much like we were hundreds of years later. They would be moving away from their home, towards this new place they'd seen from the shore. It would be too dark to look back, so they couldn't even peek back at the home (or grandmother) they were leaving. Again, this isn't the real story at all, but it was fun to imagine as I took the journey myself.

The one thing I really regret about the festival was that we didn't make it all the way across to the other island. I got pretty close, maybe a kilometre away from the shore, but we had to turn back. The sun was finally coming and you could finally make out more than a dark shadow of our destination, but with it came another thing anyone from St. Martins is completely familiar with- a tide change. It took us roughly forty minutes to get where we were, and already the tide was coming in on us. It wouldn't be long before we would, in fact, be very far underwater. It was certainly disappointing that I didn't get to make it the whole way, but I know far better than to dare the tidal change, so I turned back with just a shrug and a sigh. I then proceeded to trek another forty minutes back the way we came, in the exact same line, but the magic of it had gone out. Going back is never the same as starting a new journey, or so I've always believed. It took a little less time this time, and the water was most certainly higher (normal sized rubber boots would have failed you by then), and then it was back to the hotel for a few more hours of sleep. After I managed to pull myself out of bed (no easy task on a good day), I decided to go and explore the place I had set off from hours earlier. I went back to the statue of Grandmother and the tiger, and I was a little surprised. The stairs we had gone down to get to the water? They were nearly completely covered in water. A big difference in tides is no surprised to me, but what made me blink some was just how far away the island I had nearly walked to was. Logically, my mind knew that it would be a fair distance, given the forty minute plus walk. However, during the time I was walking, I didn't actually realize that I had traveled that much of a distance. So for awhile I just watched the island, once again letting my imagination run wild (though according to the actual story this time). It was a really grey day, almost like it was going to starting raining at any minute. The island was still basically a dark grey shape with a dash of green where some trees were, muted because the lack of clear light. Looking across, you could almost picture Grandmother standing beside you, looking across the water with a look of mourning on her face, desperately wishing to go to her family. It could almost be described as an eerie picture, if you were one to believe in legends.

While the Sea Road Festival is the main draw for Jindo, it's not the only thing it's famous for. The other isn't something that only happens once a year, but something that lives there all the time. It's something that goes straight to the heart...it's the Jindo dog. This is a dog breed native to Korea (the only breed that originally came from Korea, actually), and is actually a pretty big point of pride for not only Jindo (second most important thing, after all), but Korea as a whole. In 1938 the breed as a whole was made a national monument, and in 1967 the national government passed a law that protects them (this is big because there are not that many animal welfare laws in Korea, especially at that time). They're a breed of dog that was originally domesticated back in the stone age, and clearly evolved over time with their human counterparts. They're known for being loyal (again with the folk tales- there's a popular story of a Jindo dog who stuck with its owner, not matter the situation or odds. Given it's a story, you know they were pretty bad situations and odds), and thus why they developed so well alongside humans. They were also highly prized as animal partners because they were good at tracking and gave great protection. They're medium sized dogs, maybe up to just above my knees. They're usually yellow and white, and have the most open, sweet looking face I have ever seen on a dog. Most of all, they're adorable. Goodness are they cute. That innocent looking face? It made everyone in my group go 'awwwww'. The way they were totally willing to be petted and cooed over? I wanted one. Those were the adults. When we saw the puppies...well let's just say there was more than one person who did end up taking a puppy home with them. I, however, restrained myself. Barely. And I mean just barely.

For the festival, they arranged to have a dog show to show off the breed. Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a dog show, at least not like the fancy ones you see on TV. This was more of a group or owners/trainers and their dogs showing off the (pretty neat) tricks they've learned together. This was in a small stadium area outside and about twenty minutes away from the festival grounds (and this was before the night walk), and I'll admit I wasn't the most interested. Dog shows in any way, shape, or form, are not really my thing. Animal talent shows in general, honestly. Not to mention is was raining and kind of chilly, so my attention wasn't on the tricks so much as it was on thinking 'cute puppy!' at the non-tricking doing dogs closer to me. That said, I have to give the dogs their props- they did their tricks admirably. They were nothing too spectacular I think, mostly of the run and fetch thing variety, some shaking paws and the like. The most interesting thing they did was jump through some hoops, some of them pretty high (Up to my upper chest, maybe my chin? I was fairly far away). I can only think of a handful of times where the dogs didn't quite make the jump, so clearly they were well trained. The thing that I really think made me not completely down with the dog show was the part where they lit the outside of one of those rings on fire. That was pretty horrifying, even if I had seen all those dogs jump through it with no problem dozens of times only a minute before. I don't like fire and animals anywhere near each other, let alone for my entertainment. I wasn't the only one, because a good chunk of the crowd let their own sounds of disapproval show (there was no outright or loud comments, but you could still the general stance of 'this isn't cool' in the air), and that portion thankfully lasted for maybe a minute tops. Now, don't get me wrong- I'm not judging people and thinking 'you monsters!'. Animals are trained to do potentially dangerous things all the time, and I'm 100% sure the dogs' trainers wouldn't have done it if they didn't trust that their companion was ready for it. That said, it's something that personally bothered me (and I know others it would too), so I feel its worth a (judgement free) warning for those thinking of going to see it. If you're not comfortable with things like that, skip this show. It's not necessary for the festival, but more like an extra stop along the way to the area. I loved seeing the dogs and did find it fairly interesting, if too long, but if I had to choose between the festival or the dog show, the festival would win in a heartbeat. If you're going and have a limited amount of time, I'd certainly recommend the festival over the dogs by a large margin.

So in the end, I got a taste of what Jindo had to offer. I got to experience something that was a mix of legend and Biblical enough (thanks again Moses cosplayer!) to be a delicious combination that I found highly amusing and intriguing. I learned a really cool story and got to imagine my own version, on top of a feeling of starting out on some mysterious journey. It was an interesting experience, to say that least, and it was certainly one of the better choices for the topic of an investigation.



August 2017

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