Tuesday, August 21, 2012

[ANDONG] Masks, All Masks!

Should masks be fascinating? The only thing that they ever do to me is freak me out, which is so not cool. So why even bother dropping by the Mask Museum and dropping another 2,000 won for admission? Bus. They have a schedule which they do follow, and ours was not due for another hour. Instead of loitering in the traditional eatery where we had lunch and deprive other tourists of seats guaranteed to fulfill their gastronomic fantasies, we decided to just head out and see what the museum has to offer. It was indeed a learning experience.

As the museum’s name would suggest, the place is full of masks. Why masks? All I know is that aside from the Queen Elizabeth II visit, Andong is also famous for its Mask Festival which happens in September every year, if I am not mistaken. Well, I am mistaken. My arrival date is mistaken. It would have been cool to see a traditional Korean festival. Oh well, let the museum fill out that touristy void for now. Moving on, the museum has five or six chambers, each specializing in a certain part of the world and their masks.

Apparently, masks are well-rooted in the history not just of this Korean region, but all over the world. Used for rituals, masks serve as a way to communicate with higher level beings, or at least demonstrate how it's done via cultural presentations such as the Mask Festival mentioned earlier. Each mask in has its own story, but since we only had an hour, we avoided the burden of being well-versed in this unique area of anthropology. Leave that to the experts, we just concern ourselves with the visual fascination that staring at those masks entailed.

Korean masks are a bit new to me but they seem a bit similar to those seen in the east, namely China and Japan. Other than those, my only exposure to masks are through watching Hollywood slasher flicks, which means my concept of them is limited to that ghastly long-chinned mask used by the killer in Scream, and that of Jason (or was that Freddy?) which I think was an ice hockey goalie mask of some sort. The masks in this museum are more colorful, though, bordering from simple to the insufferably intricate. Whoever the curator is obviously did his homework well. Clap, clap!

I was a bit disappointed because there were only eight masks from the Philippines, displayed in either gallery 3 or 4. Most of them are wooden and the info card says that they were used to ward off evil spirits. It seems Indonesia beats us in the masks department, but then again they owe it to their rich Hindu tradition, I suppose. This argument is pointless anyway. This is not the Southeast Asian Games.

What else do you find inside? Well, as mentioned, the galleries are divided per region. The last one on the top floor is reserved for the Americas and the Pacific islands. And then there is one for Italy’s masks, which were the only representatives for Europe, that which they use for Mardi Gras or something. The funny thing is that it shares its gallery with Halloween masks. Yes, Halloween. They have Halloween masks! Nonetheless, I find those Italian masks to be the creepiest among the bunch. They all look sinister to me.

I am not aware of the opening hours, perhaps you could refer to the video for that, maybe I was able to capture it there. Anyway as I always suggest, avoid visiting at night, if possible in the case of this museum. Nothing. There are a handful of life-size statues in there which come alive at night to chase you down the halls. Do not say I did not warn you! Pardon me and my hyperactive imagination.

To sum it all up, what happened after Hahoe Folk Village? Friend and I took the same bus going back. The trip took 40 minutes on a standing bus. The place is quite popular even for domestic tourists so expect the bus to be standing room only. You have to make room for them ajummas who could no longer tolerate long distance travel so yeah, give up your seat, dude.

As for Andong the city, the downtown area seems to be compact with everything within walking distance. It has that little town feel but a stark contrast is present thanks to the shops and their rather modern architecture, not to mention the water streams that were in construction when I was there. I could only imagine how cool everything would look like, even in a literal sense, once they install benches next to a running stream on those streets. I think they are even applying cobblestones on some of them. Now that would be a good shopping and relaxation experience!

After the language video and some catching up on Smallville’s season eight via friend’s laptop, it was time to say goodbye. I took a bus to the main terminal. An almost four hour bus ride to Incheon station followed, and then more than an hour of Incheon rail to the airport. By 1 AM I was already trying to find a spot for sleeping at Spa on Air. Waking up at 6 AM the next morning, I prepared for my flight, which was on a half-empty Manila-bound Cebu Pacific plane. I will not say goodbye, South Korea. See you again. Definitely!

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