Saturday, August 16, 2008

16th Korean Day Festival

Hundreds of people joined in celebrations in Union Square today of the 16th Korean Day Festival.

It was an extravaganza of Korean culture in music, dance, song and martial arts with an array of beautiful national costumes that kept the audience enthralled and the square packed.

It also brought members of the 160,000-strong Bay Area Korean community together.

There were opera singers, pop music with Jennifer Chung, and many drummers playing a wide variety of drums including the colourful fire drums.

Also a feast of dancing including exquisite fan dances, a skilful sword dance, and ribbon dance where a ribbon attached to a hat twirled with movement of the dancer's head.

From Korea was a martial arts group that put on a magnificent show of martial arts combined with theatre. Their acts included Batman, Unrequited Love, and Girl Power when two girls felled four guys! The crowd appreciated their skills and comic performances.

The group, and another team from Berkeley, across the Bay, also gave agile displays of attack, defence and tumbling with many pieces of wood deftly chopped in half!

One performer from Berkeley pinned an apple to the end of a sword, only for it to be kicked in half moments later and sent spiralling towards an applauding audience.

Another hugely popular group were African American drummers who had been specially invited. Not only were they great with rhythm but they tossed giant cymbals and gave a cameo display of break-dancing.

Of the many beautiful dancers, a fan troupe from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey were stunning with their synchronised routine and bright red and yellow costumes. Two of the fan dancers were Kim, in the airforce, and Claudia in the navy.

The girls are half Korean and studying their own language. For them, contributing in the event which is filmed for Korean television, is very important.

'This is the reason why we joined the fan dance team at our school. Our mothers will be watching it on TV,' said Kim. 'It's a very big deal among Koreans.'

Watching the festival, too, was Michelle, who has lived in California all her life and who is half Mexican and half Korean. She was there with dad, Fidencio, who is Mexican, mum, Hye, who is Korean, and her friend, Charlie, who is Irish American.

The family were holding lotus flowers made in the square by the Korean American Youth Bhuddist Association.

'I'm not well connected with Korean culture because it's not such a large force here as it is in LA,' said Michelle, 'so it's really good to be here today.'

Around Union Square were stalls selling Korean food and advertising ethnic organizations like the Korean Community Health Services, and the Korean Times and Korean Daily newspapers.

As the festival drew to a close there was a grand finale with a medley of drummers playing both on the stage and parading around the excited crowd.

'We not only celebrate ourselves, we are showing our culture,' said one of the organizers, Jean Seo, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Korean Culture Centre.

'I have lived in America longer than Korea but still my blood is Korean...if any generation, any race can pick up the good part (of a country) through culture we will have a better community.

'We can be one, we can love each other, we can carry each other, respect each other,' she said.

Next year, she added, they were hoping to invite more groups to represent different cultures and so reach out across cultural boundaries.

***click here for an album of pics - many by Chris. Click on pics to enlarge

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