Celebrating the Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea
Last week, while perusing one of the many travel blogs I follow, I read an article about things you shouldn’t do abroad. It was the usual ‘don’t stay at holed up in your apartment alone,’ ‘don’t spend all your time on the computer,’ ‘don’t come to this experience with too many expectations,’ etc. etc. I thought it was a nice piece, straightforward, predictable, but good content overall.
I didn’t give the article much thought beyond my initial reading (mainly because I got a care package with Girl Scout Cookies delivered to me at work five minutes later) but I did think about it while I was walking up a hill on the Korean island of Namhae this weekend.
Last Friday, for those of you who don’t know, was Buddha’s birthday. Korea, being the wonderful country that it is, not only gives its workers Jesus’ Birthday off, but also Buddha’s. Buddha being born meant I had a three-day weekend, and with that extra day off I went to the Wineglass Bay Festival in Namhae.
The Wineglass Bay Festival, despite it’s rather misleading name, is not a wine Festival, but a festival held in an area of Namhae Island called Wineglass Bay for its resemblance to an alcohol related, beverage holder that I’m sure you can guess on your own.
Back in February I had aspirations to go to Japan on the 3 day weekend, then maybe Seoul, but once I discovered how many people were going to the Wineglass Festival, and how many of my musician friends were performing, I decided I wanted to go to Namhae instead.
Weeks ago my friend Rachael and I paid 170,000 Won (roughly $170) for our two day passes in advance for the festival. The passes included a place to stay, lunch for two days, dinner for two days, transportation to and from Namhae, access to all the music and after parties, kayaking passes, and beer coupons. It was a little pricey, sure, but it was taking care of everything so I wasn’t too worried.
The day of the festival came, and I awoke early to catch the shuttle to Namhae. I met up with the other people from Jinju, my hometown in Korea, to meet the bus at 8:30. The bus was late, not to worry, and we all piled on and headed down to the beach.
I could spend the rest of my space here detailing exactly how this festival didn’t match up with my expectations. I could tell you how it was disorganized, how events started late or simply didn’t happen. I could cite other people’s frustrations about the festival as well, but I’m not going to do that. I’m sure you don’t want me to do that either. Instead let me address the question everyone asked me when I got home: “Was it worth the money?”
170 American dollars could have bought me 5.6 pairs of shoes from my favorite shoe store in town, 37.7 coffees from the coffee shop by my job, or .41 of a round trip ticket from Busan, Korea to Tokyo. What those 170 American dollars did pay for were two days and three nights with some of my best friends in Korea, the chance to see almost a dozen live bands that were absolutely incredible, more kebabs and BBQ than I have ever eaten in a single weekend before, kayaking in the Pacific Ocean, and a place to rest my head.
My friend serenaded me to sleep while she practiced for her set the next day. I jumped around like a manic dancing and screaming for my friends and strangers performing. I watched a ten-year-old Korean kid start dancing during a performance, get called up on stage, and then crowd surf over a sea of partying foreigners. It was frickin’ awesome.
I talked to people at the end of the festival who told me they’d be writing some strongly worded letters about how the festival didn’t live up to their expectations. I get where they’re coming from. I’ll admit, there were times I was really frustrated, but after looking at my pictures, talking to my friends, and returning back to a work place devoid of ocean views and live music I can say the study abroad article was right. It wasn’t what I expected. It was a mess at times, but it was totally worth it and I’m not going to let my expectations get in the way of that.