Insa-Dong, Seoul

Each visit to Seoul yields so richly. Ten minutes will not go by before something memorable happens.

Insa-Dong, the shopping lane where I had been before, was different this time because it was summer now.  There was more green and were more people.  The shops were as fascinating as ever.  In one, I spent one of the most fascinating half hours I’ve ever had – an antique shop, not even very well-organized with much from Ming dynasty in China and carvings from Thailand.

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Ming folk art

Many of the objects were rough and un-museumy, folk art figurines, equestrian figures, a Buddha head of great beauty lying on the floor with other bits and pieces, grotesque wooden masks iconic of Chinese culture, shaman masks and figures, un-arty, elemental and brooding as masks from the Congo.

Walking down the crowded mall, I peeped into an alley way where I saw a few figures seemingly discarded and going to investigate, I saw one of the most beautiful reclining female figures, probably Thai, I have ever seen.  My photograph of it leaves me breathless.

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Thai reclining figure

There were so many other things, but as I left the street mall I heard traditional festival music – drums and flute – and saw a number of women in hanbok, colourful traditional dress, with flambouyant bonnets, marching.

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Insa-dong festival

I was told by a bystander that it was the “Insa-Dong festival” and there was a low cherrywood table laden with fruit and attended to by several Korean men in white kaftans and black square fez-type headdress.  It was difficult getting good pics of the ritual, probably Buddhist, because of the jostling crowd.

But then, the marching women stopped next to a small platform and through large speakers came traditional Korean kayagheum music, eerie, hesitant, ethereal and with fragile majesty.

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The dancer

Onto the platform came a young woman, the black hair in a traditional bun.  She was wearing a long-sleeved white dress with a black sash from her neck.  The movement was slow, held, in muted transport; her face, a mask of rapt sadness.  Her eyes saw worlds beyond that crowded afternoon pavement and the swirling noise of the city.

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The dancer

Her hands, the fingers, the wrists and forearms, her face, sang the grace of the East.

Image
The dancer

Her arms reached through the echoes of millennia, from before history. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

I stood there with brimming eyes.

Will van der Walt ©

May, 20 08

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 Image Sources: Photographs by Will

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