South Korea 5 – Masks and Toilets – 11/2014
Before we left the historic Folk Village of Hahoe, we had to take time to see the famous Mask Dance Drama called Hahoe Pyolshin-Gut Tal-nori, handed down by lower-class people since the middle of the 12th century. Village rituals were performed to appease the local goddess and drive away the evil spirits or to ensure much happiness and a good harvest for the village.
During the Summer, the play is held in an outdoor amphitheater but being November, we were sitting on the floor of a small auditorium. Tal-nori is one of four parts of the Pyolshin-Gut drama and portrays the conflicting relationship between Yangban (ruling class) and Sangmin (ruled class).
This dance is made up of 6 episodes with a satirical story of a nobleman, a fallen Buddhist monk and it delineates the joys and sorrows of the ruled people. Musicians play native instruments and singers narrate the dance. In its essence, it allows the commoners of the village to poke fun at their superiors without repercussions since, after all, it is just a play. Even though the performance was in Korean, it was pretty easy to follow the rather entertaining story. Of course we missed the many punch lines locals were laughing about. Originally 11 masks, only 10 have withstood the passing of time. When the performance was over and the masks were removed we recognized several gentlemen we had previously met at the rice straw sewing work party. One turned out to be the famous woodcarver Kim Jong-Heung of the village. (See South Korea Blog 4.)
The Yangban (aristocrat) mask is believed to represent the highest artistic value of the Hahoe masks and has become a popular symbol throughout this part of South Korea. We even saw it on the signs for public restrooms, which, brings up an interesting subject.
Without a doubt, South Korea has more clean public toilets than any other country in the world, including United States and Western Europe. In London for example, I can’t tell you the number of cups of coffee we ordered at cafés just to use the restroom. In South Korea, public bathrooms are everywhere, and we don’t mean the dirty slit trenches we found in China. We’re talking about real ultramodern toilets. Some even had heated toilet seats, a feature you could get used to. Others had the modern butt washers and warm air dryers. Some played classical music as you entered. Yeah really! Others had special seats to strap your child in while you did your business or a miniature toilet or urinal for little kids. Sometimes you could push a button to play a rushing water sound so the person next to you wouldn’t be bothered by your, well you know what it means. It served to remind us that we were back in “civilization”.
PS. Check out this website for more information on the Hahoe Mask Dance Performance. http://hahoemask.co.kr/board/index.php?doc=english/html/hahoe01.htm