Every July, in the midst of monsoon season, the soil in the coastal town of Boryeong turns into masses of thick mud and clay. This mud is rich in minerals, very good for the skin, and used in many Korean cosmetic products. And, being Korea (where everything from strawberries to butterflies to cherry blossoms is celebrated with a festival), it’s the main feature of a bizarre two-week-long party known as Mud Fest.
That’s where I spent this weekend. Utter insanity. Everyone was walking around in swimsuits, covered in mud from head to toe. People were having mud fights, wrestling in pools of mud, and sliding down huge inflatable slides into pools of mud.
I cautiously threw a leg over the side of a pool filled with – you guessed it – mud, and was promptly grabbed by at least four sets of hands, one yanking me by the ankle and the others wrestling me to the bottom. I emerged, choking and spluttering, no longer recognisable as a human being. It’s strangely liberating, rolling around in mud like a happy hippo, but it certainly makes it difficult to recognise your friends when everybody’s similarly caked in mud. I could only find Irish Friend One, who was having some unfortunate mud/contact lenses issues, and rather than walk around all muddy and friendless, we went down to the sea instead.
Despite being pleasantly warm to swim in, the water was quite rough. We had fun swimming and wave-jumping, until a particularly giant wave took me by surprise, mid-conversation, and I found myself being knocked off my feet and dragged under. I flailed around for a while, choking and gasping, before finally resurfacing to discover that my glasses were gone.
This was somewhat depressing, for I am as blind as the proverbial bat and would have had no hope of finding them even if I’d been on dry land and there hadn’t been waves crashing over me every 5 seconds. Irish Friend One was no use either, his eyes swollen and red from the contacts he had since discarded. The pair of us scrabbled around hopelessly for a while, him saying nonsensical things such as “Sure they’ll float to the surface anyway!”, and me panicking and getting repeatedly knocked over by waves as I tried to feel around on the sea bed with my feet. It was ridiculous. Two half-blind people trying to find a pair of glasses in the bubbling, crashing, roaring surf: it’s the new looking for a needle in a haystack. Then IFO managed to slice his foot open on a broken shell, and we gave up and stumbled back to the beach, a sorry sight: him hobbling and limping and rubbing his red eyes, me clutching at his arm in panic as I realised I’d never find my way back to the hotel through all these vague, blurry shapes if I lost him.
I spent the rest of the weekend gaining a new, deep respect for the miracle that is eyesight.
I couldn’t wander off alone for fear of getting lost, I couldn’t tell who was waving at me or calling to me, I couldn’t see the fireworks that night, I couldn’t people-watch, I couldn’t join in conversations about the surroundings or passers-by. I even struggled to follow conversations in general, not being able to see my friends’ faces, read their expressions, or tell when someone was looking expectantly at me for a response. American Friend Two actually had to lead me to the toilets at one stage and push me in the direction of the correct door, where he waited patiently for me and then steered me back to where we’d been sitting. English Friend One was very sympathetic, bringing me his spare pair of glasses (some people are apparently sensible enough to have such a thing), but they hurt my eyes after a few minutes and I ended up opting for blindness once again.
Still, it provided entertainment. One of my lasting memories of the trip will be of a roomful of people, led by South African Friend Four, swaying and singing to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean:
My glasses lie under the ocean, my glasses lie under the sea!
My glasses lie under the ocean. Oh bring back my glasses to me!
Bring back, oh bring back, oh bring back my glasses to me, to me…
[I did get the problem resolved when I returned to Daejeon and was carefully led by South African Friend Two into an optician's. Korea being the country of amazing efficiency that it is, I skipped out less than an hour later, eyes tested, wearing my new glasses - how impressive is that?! They even have a little internet café serving free snacks and drinks while you wait for your lenses to be put into your new frames! Love it.]
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