Monday, March 30, 2009

Bullfighting, North Korean Dancers, and Wine Tunnel

Warning: Post is a bit long and audiovisual heavy. Enjoy!

Saturday, Min Gi and I took a drive out to Cheongdo for the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival (청도 소싸움 축제). The bullfights consisted of two animals, roughly matched in weight, butting their heads at each other until one of them decides he's had enough and runs away. Although I've heard it's more brutal in Spain, where the aim is to kill the animals, by the end of some of the longer fights (20 or more minutes), some of them had quite a bit of blood oozing out from various places on their bodies (especially behind the ears where the opposing cow's horns often struck).

Daegu bull 차차 (ChaCha) tricks his oppenent into advancing before going in for the win. This particular fight bothered me because the animals kept stopping like they didn't want to fight, but their owners would goad them on. By the end, both were pretty bloody.

Most of the matches consisted of a few moments of action between long periods of rather boring tension while the bulls pushed their heads against each other, moving very little. You can see this for yourself in the video below. The beginning and ending of this clip show the moments of action, while the middle minute or so is pretty much why it got kind of dull after awhile.

The bull who has the advantage here, 탱고 (Tango), maintained the lead for most of the match, but eventually lost to the more experienced bull.

Outside the main arena were a number of Cheongdo culture celebrations booths. Of course, there were also games for children and lots of art featuring bulls.

Me and my new pet.

Dance troupe from Pyongyang

The festival also feature performers from all over Korea, but the highlight of the day was a troupe from Pyongyang, North Korea. They were introduced by a group of North Korean refugees who work for some kind of reunification non-profit group. This was the first time I've seen live North Koreans who weren't trying to scare the living daylights out of me at the border.

The singers had amazingly beautiful costumes and heavily made up faces.

This was my first time hearing the North Korean accent in person. To me, it sounded like they were speaking Korean very high-pitched, like they are just about to run out of breath, and with an air of desperation. (It's possible this is compounded by the effects of Communism and starvation, but who knows?)

Pitcher balancing dance. It was really cool when they started spinning.

Watching the dance troupe reminded me of the novel, Jia, where the main character is a lead dancer at the main tourist hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea for most of her adult life. While seeing it for myself was very much how I imagined it would be (more about precision of moment and pitch than individual expression, big and bright and propagandistic), it was also quite a shock to see them so close with tensions between the two Koreas in such a strained place.

I tried to get as much video as possible of the numerous performances, but it was difficult because half of the stadium decided to leave their seats while the performance was going on and because I'd used so much memory photographing/videotaping the bulls that I was almost out of space. So none of the clips are of high quality or of the complete performances, but they are definitely worth watching.

Creepy Toy Dance.

Cool Dance with Strange Castinet-Like Instruments.

Wine Tunnel

After the Pyongyang performance, we decided we'd seen enough of bulls butting heads, so we headed out to a wine tunnel we passed a few minutes from the stadium. This wine tunnel was a storehouse for persimmon wine. While I'm not a huge fan of fruit wines in general or persimmons in their natural form, the wine itself was pretty dry. It tasted a bit like a well-oaked chardonnay. I enjoyed it and wandering around in the dark.

Ghostly Min Gi. Not the Ghost of Min Gi, just to clarify.

Check out the full day's album for more pictures of interest:

Bullfighting Festival


  1. The toy dancers are definitely wicked creepy!

  2. Pretty interesting are those dances. I think they put effort in everything they do. Why "half of the stadium decided to leave their seats" ?

  3. I'm not sure, Mountaincat. They just were all intensely watching the bulls, but when the dancers started, they all ran for the bathrooms (or food. or soju).



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