[Letters] Space for tradition

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[Letters] Space for tradition

The recent Changwon International Flower Festival was held on a piece of seafront land with clear views of the Masan free trade zone, the city’s oil refinery, its landmark luxury apartment development and the nearby ferry terminal. One of the event’s tangential attractions, therefore, was its central perspective. Over 10 warm sunny days, nursery school groups and families happily roamed the outdoor avenues of temporary gardens. Inside the festival’s central attraction, the main tent, a personal touch was appended to the voluminous display of floral varieties. The herb section displayed herb yogurt, herb face cream and herb alcohol. Nearby, the rock carving installation was attracting significant camera attention. Back outside, electronically reinterpreted folk music blasted from the sound stage.

The festival’s entrance was heralded by two eight-meter-high hedge-crafted peacocks. In truth, however, many visitors were spending more time dawdling on the sea road leading up to those giant leafy birds. The fringes, beyond the center, were proving more detaining. This was where the nojomsang - the tent traders in festival fare - were plying their products. From noon to midnight, food tents would serve you just alcohol if that was all you wanted.

Book stall holders had set out their piles at random, as if genre didn’t matter. There was a real pig roasting on a real spit. Horse chestnuts and peas were among the many hot fast foods. Bursting balloons were marginally denting the profits of harried merchandisers eager to overinflate them.

In duller places where law enforcement would step in to quash the grey market, visitors might not have been able to play “Nostalgia Number Pick,” the old money risk raffle game in which you choose a ticket from a bucket in the hope that it corresponds with a winning number on the board. The sea road on those days was for many visitors literally a trip down memory lane. Its 100-meter layout of stalls was festooned with promotional signs using adjectives describing the past: traditional (stuffed pancakes), olden days (flower bread) and the like. Nostalgia was obviously a factor in sanctioning the operation of traders whose accounts may escape the strictest attentions of the tax office.

Before the advent of static, permanent markets and shop structures, o-il-jang traditional occasional markets rotated their operations regionally around the various towns and villages of Korea. They provided on their fringes an opportunity for the nojomsang traders to set out their stalls.

The decline of such markets to vanishing point leaves meager opportunities for those maintaining this means of living. The determined trader must follow the schedule of annual fairs and festivals in order to make a go of it. Their numbers must be driven down, however, and as the bearers of various unique cultural traditions fall by the wayside, so do the cultural traditions they bear.

It is often at the fringes of structured activity where real interest is to be found. The story of the panhandler outside the stage door is sometimes richer and of greater value than the repeated fiction inside. And there was a noticeably more convivial atmosphere than the curious but distal interest prevalent within the perimeters. One of the event’s other tangential attractions, therefore, was its fringe appeal.

In providing venues for more expansive displays of old times fare and fun, that fare and fun would lose the constant threat to itself it suffers from surviving in a diminishing fringe. And we wouldn’t have to wait a year for it to come round again.

N.B. Armstrong, a translator and textbook writer in Changwon city

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.
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