Identity Every October and September there is an International Mask Dance Festival going on in the town of Andong with roughly about 10 foreign countries participating in it. Since its first occasion in 1997, the festival has been nominated as one of the biggest ten festivals held in the nation by attracting thousands of people every year. However, this is only a fraction of the countless attractive aspects that Andong city bears. The Granite Tower (GT) was able have a chance to visit the town during the summer vacation to explore and experience the traditional yet dynamic atmosphere of Andong.
Andong, located in Gyeongsang North province, is a town well-known for its historic value and traditional mood. It retains the largest amount of cultural assets in the nation from various eras and aspects of traditional Korean societies. In effect, the number of cultural properties listed on the national heritage is slightly bigger than that of another competing historical town of Gyeongju by a little over six items. In this sense, the town is often referred to as a city of museum without roofs, evenly incorporating rich cultural backgrounds of Confucian, Buddist, and folk culture.
The current name Andong was given by Taejo Wang Geon in the wake of the unification of the post Three States after a series of fierce battles against Baekjae of Gyeon Hweon. It was in order to commemorate the victorious status of the town as a strategic position to play a decisive role in uniting the entire nation for the second time. The name is composed of two Chinese characters, symbolizing “comfortable” and “East,” which basically means that it was the region to stabilize the east area of the nation. Prior to this, it used to be called Gochang, Gilju, or Yeonga.
▲ A signpost of the entrance of Hahoe Village
The very first spot to visit was Hahoe Global Mask Museum located near the entrance of Hahoe Village. The museum was established in 1995 as the first mask museum in Korea in order to provide a broad understanding regarding this precious cultural asset of Hahoe masks while comparing other masks from various countries. The collection thus not only includes multiple Haheo masks but also displays a number of masks from Africa, South America, India, China, and Japan. Besides, there is an additional collection of masks for the carnival in Venice and Halloween in America.
Hahoetal is undeniably an invaluable national asset as it is a single domestic mask to be designated as a national treasure (No. 121). It is evaluated as an outstanding masterpiece in the domain of mask art, with its distinctive forms and functions as well as its unique spirituality. Each and every hahoetal has its own name with descriptive explanations regarding its character, personality, and life history. The fact that it instantly gives the viewers and audiences a sense of familiarity seems to be a successful example of a “storytelling” technique applicable to other areas as well.
▲ A Traditional House in Hahoe VillageProvided by iclickart.co.kr
Hahoe Village, which has been nominated as a World Cultural Heritage site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010, is known to have a profound historic significance. The village is basically a living community formulated within the circle of the Ryu family, one of the three most prestigious aristocratic families in Andong. It is relatively well preserved in a sense of folklore traditions and constructions as the village managed to survive through the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 without being significantly impaired.
The village began to build its worldwide reputation and widespread popularity upon the opportunity of a visit made by the Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. A tree named Gusang, a Korean fir, is situated in front of Chunghyodang, and was planted to commemorate her visit to the village. The reason why it had to be this tree is because it bears both the exceeding elegance of a queen and persevering spirit of the Korean people even within the harsh historical reality.
The most representative dwelling constructions within the village in terms of their scale and history are Yangjindang of the northern region and Chunghyodang of the southern region. These two are typical traditional houses owned by Yangban, a ruling gentry class of the Joseon Dynasty. Another site that is never to be missed out is Buyongdae, which is a natural grandeur cliff along the Nakdong River. When we visited, there was a musical getting ready for a performance in the evening, so if you are interested in it will add another element of excitement to your journey.
Andong Jjimdak and Night-seeing
▲ An original Andong Jjimdak
After finishing a walking tour in Hahoe Village, we then headed to the downtown area to have Andong jjimdak, a famous dish that originated in Andong. It has steamed chicken being marinated in a unique spicy soy sauce together with assorted vegetables and cellophane noodles. The dish has a relatively recent history as the menu was first invented in early 2000 when traditional fried chicken restaurants were facing a financial crisis challenged by competing franchises. The urgent and desperate needs and efforts of those independent local restaurant owners not only saved themselves but also brought an enormous benefit to the entire town.
Being fully stuffed with mouth-watering Andong jjimdak, we went to Weolyeonggyo, the nation’s longest walking bridge, to watch the night view. The scenery the bridge and the river gave was definitely mesmerizing, with colorful lights dimly brightening the area. But at the same time it was so eerie and ghostly, with thick fogs blanketing the river that it almost felt like a test requiring great nerves and guts. However, it was indescribably beautiful, just like the meaning of the bridge, “the moonlight bridge.”
Dosan Seowon and Toegye Lee Hwang
As for the final destination of this short trip, Dosan Seowon was chosen amongst many other attractive spots because of its significant value, considering the fact that it enshrines a respectful scholar and leader, Toegye Lee Hwang. This private Confucian academy was constructed in 1574 by enlarging the previous Dosan Seodang where Lee Hwang wholeheartedly dedicated his last years delving into a field of Neo-Confucianism. The academy possess a scholastic atmosphere where both young and old learners can deeply be immersed in their studying while awaking the profound meanings and truths underlying the beautiful yet serene nature.
Although the visit to Andong was quite short since we only get to spend two days in the town, it was enough to rediscover the magnetic charms of the city. Its rich and abundant historical and traditional cultural heritage was well above the expectation and imagination the writer once used to have. As it is often said that we are living in a global era with new technologies and ideologies redefining us as more of cosmopolitan or international citizens, it is becoming easy to neglect our identity as Korean. Visiting a city where traditional Korean culture still breathes calmly yet vividly, you might be able to rethink and respect your cultural and social heritage and might as well be proud of it.