▲ A good time had by all: festival-goers get involved in the variety of activities offered at the annual Chilsimni festival. This year’s festival was scaled down due to concerns about the flu but this did not diminish the enthusiasm of those who attended. Photos courtesy Seogwipo City
Among Jeju’s myths and legends is that of Seobok, the servant of the emperor Qin Shihuang. The Chinese emperor sent Seobok to seek anti-aging medications in Seogwipo. Today, Seogwipo is Jeju Island’s second largest city. From Oct. 23-25 the city celebrated its legends and culture by holding the 15th Seogwipo Chilsimni Festival, appropriately themed “Perennial Youth and Long Life.”
The festival’s name “Chilsimni,” which literally translates to “70 Lees,” meaning a distance of about 28km, was an old concept of the distance between Jeonghihyeon in Seong-eup to Seogwipo’s port. It is also known locally as the virtual distance between Seogwipo residents’ hearts-representing their hopes and dreams.
Embracing the culture, the three-day event allowed festival-goers to experience local art and lifestyle. “This festival is meant to show what they ate, drank, games and their clothes. It contains mainly the traditional lifestyle,” said Kweon Dae-jeong, the event organizer.
The warm October weather attracted a large, diverse group of visitors who were welcomed at the entrance by a wish tunnel. The colorful tunnel saw hundreds of wishes written and tied onto a fence. The various festival activities kept everyone joyfully entertained. Often, loud Korean music blared in the background from the stage performances and singing competitions, with some festival-goers singing along from a distance.
When the stage was unoccupied, the youth zone, located in the centre of the event space, provided the soundtrack for the festival. Children of all ages screamed in glee while relishing their experiences- from making oversized bubbles, to juggling, to learning how to unicycle.
The local folk experience zone was another frequented by children. Unlike the youth zone, adults seemed to equally enjoy the activities in this area, which contained folk games, old farming vehicles in which a person can be dragged along on, a look at a stone grinder which was used to grind crops, as well as a flute-making station, which used small bamboo stocks to make traditional Korean flutes. A collective effort by visitors saw the making of traditional rice cakes, which were then cut up and devoured by the waiting crowds.
Tradition continued outside the folk zone, along the sides of the event space, in tents labeled Bullojangsaeng Seogwipo, which means “no aging, long-living Seogwipo.” The tents provided further local experiences such as Jeju pottery and small-scale kiln manufacturing, the delicate making of Dak paper dolls, and Bullocho Tea sampling. Many visitors stopped in the tea tent to savor the flavors and experience the local tea ceremony, which included guippong, joridae, haeguk, buckwheat and green teas.
Free sampling of Jeju pork, along with Jeju seafood were available at the local food zone, with a large tent set up as a restaurant for hungry patrons. The restaurant served famous local dishes, such as Jeonbokjuk- rice porridge with abalone, and Seonggeguk- sea urchin soup, and of course, Makoeli- Korean rice wine.
Jeju’s local culture is evident through the activities and foods of the festival, and although it teaches many foreigners about Jeju, it also allows the youth a glimpse of their history. “Nowadays, the Korean culture is very global, affected by many different cultures. This kind of event connects the younger generation who may have not experienced the local culture. Jeju has a deep and beautiful culture, and now the young have a chance to experience it,” said Ahn Hea-sook, a professor of Korean culture at Konkuk University in Seoul.
Even without the anti-aging medicine that Seobok sought, Seogwipo’s culture continues perennially, and the Chilsimni festival celebrates that fact. “Jeju people should be proud of this festival that maintains the culture,” said Professor Ahn, as she sipped her tea, while sitting in on a tea demonstration, “I am so proud.”
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