Friday, October 30, 2009
The Gwangju Kimchi Festival, and kimchi pop art.
I spent a few hours at the Gwangju Kimchi Cultural Festival (광주김치문화축제) on Wednesday. Actually, all the students at my school's Korean-language program were supposed to attend together, but those plans were cancelled on Wednesday morning because of swine flu worries. Apparently they anticipated more people at a festival on the outskirts of town on a Wednesday afternoon than on a crowded university campus. *cough* Anyway, it was especially quiet, and a very nice time.
The cabbage mascots were one of the highlights, seen here with a white guy photoshopped in.
They always travelled as a pair, chasing each other, fighting, proposing marriage, wrestling, and so on. I wonder if I can rent some for my next party. I took a short video, but once I started filming they stopped fighting.
It was a nice, quiet day at the festival site.
Inside the Bitgoeul Gymnasium, pictured above, is the Kimchi History & Culture Exhibition. Different varieties of kimchi, including some by award-winners, were on display.
Some kimchi art as well.
There was a fairly large collection, though it didn't photograph well. They had several exhibits inside, though most of the displays were in Korean. This one was close.
At the end of a hall was a small roulette wheel, and depending on which number you got you could try a sample of food from one of Gwangju's several sister cities. I got pork and sauerkraut from Germany.
Here comes the Kimchi Train.
The largest building on the grounds is Yeongju Gymnasium (영주종합체육관). Around the outside to the right was a number of food stalls and restaurants, while to the left were vendors selling local specialities, such as Shinan salt products or gulbi from Yeonggwang county.
The Kimchi Buffet Restaurant, like all the others in the middle of the afternoon, was empty. But if you go this weekend you can come here and . . . eat as much kimchi as you'd like.
The Turkish Kebab guys never miss a festival.
Inside the gymnasium were a number of vendors. It smelled like a subway car.
For especially big orders.
For 5,000 won you could of course make your own kimchi. This year they made it easier for photojournalists.
Photographers and visitors alike were largely absent on Wednesday. Here's another white guy photoshopped in.
It was all right, but a little disappointing because the head kimchi maker pretty much did everything. "First you have to mix the ingredients," he said. Then he mixed the ingredients. "Then you take the cabbage in your left hand and dab the sauce with your right." Then he took the cabbage in his left hand and dabbed the sauce with his right. I got to do a little bit, but I guess this way it guarantees it'll taste all right.
My favorite part, though, was behind the gymnasium and across from the park's swimming pool.
I like dioramas.
Inside the hall were dozens of posters about kimchi and the festival. Some were done by students, I learned, though some look like they were done by professionals. They were great.
Koreans' attempts at promoting their food and their culture overseas can appear quite aggressive, over-the-top, and ridiculous. Things like the "Kimchi Warrior" cartoon and the "Kimchi Love Festival" look kitsch to us, but I really don't think they were intended that way. These were probably not intended to be ironic as well, but they're both a commentary on the dish and its promotion, and I'll tell you what, if prints were available, or if they made t-shirts out of them, I'd certainly buy a ton. Much more palatable, pun sort of intended, than spokespeople telling us that kimchi prevents SARS, AIDS, and stab wounds, or government officials talking about Korean food invading and conquering foreign cultures, this was a nice, quirky way to promote a food that, to be honest, really won't find more than a niche market outside of Korea.
My apologies for the quality. I planned on cropping them for this post, but that would have taken forever. I asked some of the attendants in the hall where the posters came from, and what would be done with them after the festival, and they didn't know. They asked a couple of the student artists---high school or college, perhaps---and they said they would just be returned when the festival closes.
The festival is held next to Gwangju's World Cup Stadium, surrounded by a nice little park.
The festival runs through Sunday, November 1st. The World Cup Stadium is accessible by a few city buses. There are also shuttle buses to the Design Biennale, which stop between the stadium and the festival site; I'm not sure if shuttle buses run to the Kimchi Festival, but buses to the Bienalle leave at 10:20, 11:40, 14:30, 15:00, 16:20, and 17:40. I suspect the festival will be a lot more crowded this weekend, though if you're in the area it's worth checking out.