South Korea Muds Up

Lee Si-Woo, Mayor of Boryeong City in South Korea, has extended an invitation to one and all for what has to be one of the strangest rites for a society as normally buttoned up as Korea is, at least on the surface. This is after all a country where public nudity is verboten and even kissing in public is liable to invite stares.

It is the 2012 Boryeong Mud Festival, which in a press release is described by the mayor as an “exciting mud experience with people from all over the world.” As many as 2 million visitors from in and outside South Korea are expected to go smear themselves with mud at Boryeong, 200 km south of Seoul, between 14 and 24 July, although the final weekend is where serious mudding takes place. It is one of Korea’s biggest festivals.

The event was born in 1998 as a way to promote cosmetics made from mud from the Boryeong mud flats, which is said to be full of minerals like bentonites and germaniums, which occur naturally in the mud in the area. It has since grown into something that can only be described as breathtaking.

The festival features scores of bikini-clad women and speedo-clad men rolling around in mud – mud wrestling, mud sliding, mud massage – either self-massage at the beach or the Ulta-modern Mud Massage elsewhere, the Mud Experiential Land Program, the mud king contest, and a mud fireworks fantasy. Those who don’t get smeared with mud will be put in a makeshift jail til they mud up.

According to a press release, “In addition, there are 78 big and small islands including a fantastic one like God kneaded and 36 precious cultural heritages like Woiyeon-do, Muchangpo sea road famous for Mosaic Miracle, a cold pool even you feel chilly in summer, coal Museum, national Treasure, Namhyehwasang Baekwol Bogwang Monument and etc., so visitors can sightsee and enjoy all those things. Hence, we are to let people know Cultural sightseeing in Boryeong as a related activity and also advertise Boryeong Mud Cosmetic broadly to home and abroad.”

The festival has become popular both with Koreans and western tourists as well as American military personnel stationed in the country, and foreign English teachers. It attracted some controversy in 2009 when a group of school children developed skin rashes after contact with the mud.

Attractions are erected in the seafront area of Daecheon including a mud huge pool which seeming hundreds of people leap into to roll around, mud slides, the mud prison and mud skiing competitions. Colored mud is also produced for body painting.

“We are excited to invite you to Korea’s representative festival,” Mayor Lee said in an email. “Over 2 million visitors from in and out of Korea come to have this exceptional experience with friends and family every year. This Korea’s representative festival that everyone loves is stepping up as an international festival.”

Visitors, Lee said, “can free themselves from their daily lives and participate conveniently without any preparation. Most of all, they can directly experience the well-known effects of mud on skin and beauty. While putting mud all over their body and meeting new people, they are able to break down walls of age, nationality, and race and have fun together. We also provide an opportunity to enjoy well-being travel through the healthy effect of mud in addition to a fun-packed festival.”

Sounds like fun.