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Say hello to South Korea’s capital

It may be children’s day but the young boy looks very serious as an assistant dresses him in a heavy orange robe. His father is sitting nearby, being fitted with fake facial hair and his sister is dressed already, swathed in a red and green hanbok with gold embellishment. A female assistant in jeans delicately balances a hairpiece on the girl’s head and pins it in place. The young Korean boy can hear the drums coming from the entrance to Gyeonghee Palace and is no doubt wondering when this torture will end and he can go watch the taekwondo display.

In front of the palace, a crowd has gathered to watch a farmers’ dance in which participants leap around a square, defy dizziness by spinning long white ribbons attached to their hats while playing traditional percussion instruments. Their maroon smocks with yellow, red and blue detail reflect the colours of the ancient buildings behind them. More drummers follow; young men and women beat out a heart-pounding rhythm.

Meanwhile, the taekwondo experts are limbering up for a breathtaking display set to the theme music from Pirates Of The Caribbean. For a nation that has survived 900 invasions over its 5000-year history, physical strength is important and this sport is hugely popular. Pollen floats through the air as boys, girls, men and women line up to spin through the air and kick apples from knives, or smash concrete with bare hands.

Life in Seoul, The Sun-Herald, April 13, 2008

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