Last weekend was the parade for Buddha's Birthday in Seoul. Today (May 5) is the actual birthday, but I suppose buddha's birthday is much like the queen's birthday or any other abstract excuse to make huge paper lanterns and walk around on the street shouting and waving at total strangers. It was as kitchy as it sounds, and pretty fun.
Jay and I walked and ate our way through the street fair in front of the Jogyesa Temple during the day and then I went back to see the lanterns at night. some very cool floats at the parade and the effect of the lit lanterns hanging in the temple was amazing. Lots of wacky drum circles, conga lines and hats made of lanterns.
They had a goofy tent for "foreigners to make lanterns." My friend Jun who is korean american and recently moved to seoul for work said that he tried to join one year and they wouldn't let him. the lanterns are for dorky whiteys only, i guess.
I also witnessed a man get wrestled to the ground by plain clothes cops. one minute this guy was standing there watching some singers on a stage, and the next minute, someone had him in a headlock, and another guy was struggling to get cuffs on him. The man being attacked was resisting. Then the guy's head was forced down, and someone put a knee to his back, which put him face down on the floor. A crowd is gathering by now, looking on in shock. The cops (who knows if they were cops, I never saw any badge or anything) finally slam handcuffs on the man, pick him up by his shirt collar and lead him away with his head under one of the cop's arm. It was an intense show of violence, and even more strange was that it happened without any noise. I heard nothing except the shuffling of feet. There wasn't any grunting or shouting from any of the parties involved. An odd silent struggle.
Sensing the end of the drama, the crowd turned back to dancers doing hip-hop moves on the lit-for-television stage. machines mounted on scaffolding started blowing endless streams of pink tissue conffetti into the air. for at least 30 minutes the entire square looked like a snow globe.