Sunday, August 31, 2014

Boryeong Mud Festival

I moved out of Samsung Global Strategy Group 4 months ago and transitioned to a job in a Samsung Electronics' sales group in Suwon. I miss the short commute I once had to GSG's office at Samsung headquarters above Seoul's Gangnam Station, and I was invited back recently on a Friday afternoon to discuss my new job with people still in the group. After this meeting as I stopped by to say hi to my former Korean staffers, one asked me, "Jonathan, do you have plans tomorrow?" Lucky me – I did not – and I was invited to a GSG-organized visit to the Boryeong Mud Festival. All I needed to do was set my alarm and reach Gangnam by 7:45am on a Saturday morning. I could do that!

I am a little bit muddy
Boryeong Mud Festival is hosted annually on Korea's western coast, about a 2-hour bus ride southwest of Seoul. GSG chartered a bus and I caught a nice nap on the ride over. We had a cloudy day, but no rain (thankfully rainy season this summer was much drier than last), and temperature was mild but not too hot. For someone looking to protect white skin, it was a good day to be outdoors!

When we arrived we walked past rows of buses with US military personnel. One of the Koreans in our group commented, "I feel like a foreigner here!" Though Boryeong Mud Festival is popular with expats, it was not the foreigner-fest that maybe some Koreans had feared – the domestic population was well-represented as well.

Our group set up camp on the beach and paid a couple guys to bring over umbrellas to cover our area. I was nicely surprised by the quality of the beach ... good sand and big waves crashing down on a windy day. Definitely the nicest beach that I have seen on the west coast of Korea. We took the compulsory group photo, then set out for the mud festivities nearby. "Should we leave our wallets and cellphones in our backpacks?" "It's Korea... it's a super-safe country... our stuff will probably be fine." Maybe we were too trusting in just leaving our valuables unlocked along the beach as we went to play in the mud, but true to expectation everything was as we had left it when we returned.

The festival mud area consisted of a series of inflatable stations, mud wrestling, mud slinging, and any other conceivable activities that one could do with mud. The mud that was used looked like the sea mud which one sees along much of Korea's western shore, and it was a bit watered down, but we all became quite dirty nonetheless. We started in "mud prison", where mud was hurled at us as we went behind bars, followed by an inflatable mud obstacle course which ended with a fun mud slide. Others waited in line for the mud wrestling and other events.

Compulsory group photo on the beach ... pre-mud
By mid-day, the queues had become quite long, so we retreated to the beach, where the leader of the group met us with fried chicken, beer, and Korean snacks. Not so good for the diet, but good for a lazy weekend on the beach. I did not know a lot of people in the group – several were GSG interns working in Korea for the summer – but it was still a good time. During the afternoon a few people napped on the beach while others walked towards a big stage where a DJ had set up to lead a beach rave. Young Koreans love bobbing their heads to the nnnsssst nnnsssst nnnsssst of house music, and the scene felt like something one might experience on Miami Beach or Ibiza.

Mud Festival made for an enjoyable Saturday, and I would recommend to any young person who happens to traveling around Korea during late July next year!

(all photos courtesy of Kisub "Keith" Song)

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