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The Dano Festival

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During my first week at school, I talked with my students about things to do in the area around Donghae. The Dano Festival, hosted every year in Gangneung, came up several times. Since most festival and celebrations in Korea have been canceled in the aftermath of the Sewol sinking, I wasn’t sure the Dano Festival would be held this year. It arrived at the end of May as expected—and with a day off work for the election, I took advantage of the free time to check out the festival for myself. 

One of my co-teachers invited me to see the festival with his family. We met in downtown Gangneung and walked together through the market area toward the river. There’s an elevated roadway on that side of the water, so I didn’t see the festival until we were just above it. 

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Beneath the tents, merchants had set up their stands. Election day was rainy, but that didn’t stop the locals from coming out. Tarps hung between the tents to create a covered walk that protected the festival attendees from rain showers. Most of the merchants on the north side of the river were selling household items and souvenirs. 

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As we crossed the river, the festival started to look more like the images of the Dano Festival that I’d seen advertised. There was a group performing traditional Korean music. My co-teacher’s family and I also watched part of the Gwanno Mask Drama, a love story between an old clown and a young lady. Children performed the version we saw.

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The Danno Festival is also famous for its large, traditional swings. I’d seen these in Andong as well, but at the Dano Festival there were competitions to see who could swing highest. Couples could swing in tandem, using the weight of their whole bodies to propel themselves:

 

I also saw a (sadly empty) ssireum arena, a stand where people could practice the traditional Korean drums, and a woman telling fortunes. My future looks bright!

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Though the fairgoing events came from Korea’s history, a lot of the food was standard fair fare. (Plus a kiosk for Lotteria, the Korean equivalent of McDonald's.) 

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I did spot some unique delectations, including a roasted pig (half the body, rotating over a fire), stuffed squid, and kebabs made with meat off the spit.

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What surprised me most about the Dano Festival was the international presence. I saw booths displaying clothing, foods, and games from other countries around Asia, as well as merchants selling clothing items and knick-knacks from their home countries. 

The Dano Festival also has several information booths with English-language pamphlets explaining the festival's history and events. These booths are staffed by super-friendly people. If you ever have the chance to visit, stop by and say hello!

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