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Each year, Eumseong, a city in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, holds a Pumba Festival. (Fun fact: this is where United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is from.) “Pumba,” which doesn’t relate to The Lion King ( you will hear this joke ad nauseum from the expat community), means “beggar” or “vagabond.” Historically, back when Korea was poor, pumbas would roam the country.

They let us pick our costumes.

They let us pick our costumes.

As with most festivals in Korea, there is a parade with people dressed in very colorful, almost clown-like outfits, with their faces painted. There were gakseori, people who perform traditional dances and play musical instruments. There was also a “beggar opera” in an open-air auditorium that was packed with people.

Locals painting themselves.

Locals painting themselves.

In the beginning, I confess I had misgivings, because having lived in and visited developing countries and impoverished areas, I had no inclination to “celebrate” poverty. But during the festival, I realized that it was really more of a joyful occasion that got everyone in the province together, young and old alike. And like most festivals in Korea, it has to hearken back to something historic. As South Korea is one of the most developed countries in the world, this is a tradition that to me resembles a cross between a mime festival and Mardi Gras. In a country that celebrates perfect porcelain skin, it was refreshing to see brightly colored faces.

Ajummas: always the best dressed anywhere and anytime in Korea.

Ajummas: always the best dressed anywhere and anytime in Korea.

Also, as a modern “vagabond” myself, I do kind of relate to this idea of moving around and having to entertain people and struggling to survive.

These kids were among the best part.

These kids were among the best part.

If anything, the most unsettling part of the experience was this army of ajusshi and some ajumma who were decked in hiking gear and DSLR cameras, taking photos of the costumed people who were mostly foreigners like me. Apparently, there was a 1-million won prize for the best photograph. And so we were followed by paparrajusshi all afternoon.

Yikes. Paparajusshi.

Yikes. Paparajusshi.

They could get quite aggressive and would dive in the strangest positions that I believe yielded the most unflattering shots. I mean, come on.

I kid you not.

I kid you not.

And so I wanted to turn the tables and took a lot of photos of them. Like so.

DSLR heaven.

DSLR heaven.

I didn’t really mind, since most were friendly. However, I only posed for one. An ajumma. I don’t get the impression that women here have a lot of rights. I hope she wins the million won.

… is what they call this terrifying practice of getting screaming children (and occasional adults) to run after adorable farm animals, who do not look as though they’re having fun. The event, which I saw in Hampyeong’s butterfly festival, also had an enthusiastic emcee. Perhaps it’s me being a waegukin (foreigner), but I was quite horrified.

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Check out the ears of the poor bunny:

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This is a blurry shot, but I think it deserves to be published. I call this photo, “The Pig Won.”

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Flowers are starting to bloom in Korea. Hurray!

Color. Finally.

Color. Finally.

On the way to pick up my fourth passport from the embassy—Oh the luxury of smelling and touching a crisp new passport!—even this bear agreed:

Yes, little bear. Yes, it is.

Yes, little bear. Yes, it is.

Fare thee well, the winter of our discontent.

In Seoraksan, a mountain in the east of South Korea, it’s like a calligraphy painting that came to life. It was a grueling yet doable trek, with me giving high fives and fist bumps to the friendly elderly Korean people who regularly climb these mountains. It seemed as though they do it without breaking a sweat.

(I want to be an ajumma when I grow up. Such respect for these badass people who are so physically fit and look as though they just stepped out of a hiking catalog.)

It's like a calligraphy painting that came to life!

It’s like a calligraphy painting that came to life!

I bet it will look beautiful in the fall. I bet that’s enough reason for me to go back.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

There is nothing like getting physically and mentally pushed to my limits to power me through the second half of this residency. Hwaiting!

hotteok, South Korea

hotteok, South Korea

Annyeong, everyone! I’m starting another project.

During my first three weeks in Seoul, beyond the palaces, the museums, and other beautiful attractions the city has to offer, I learned to fall in love with their street food. I have started some drawing projects over the years, and so I came up with The Movable Feast: A Street Food Project, an interpretative illustration project that celebrates the joys and oddities of street food around the world.

Inclusive cuisine

Street food is arguably the most socially inclusive, yet sometimes unnoticed or taken for granted, of all cuisines. There is neither dress code nor reservation required. Everyone has to wait their turn. Street food is among the best things to eat when one is rushing to work, taking a break in between classes, or being too lazy to cook. It is cheap, easily available, and delicious.

The menu of street food can be simple (such as coconut juice and watermelon slices) or more complex and hard-to-find (such as escargot on the go, lobster sandwiches, and grilled tamales) This system includes a range of members—from the ambling taho vendor (Philippines), the seasonal bocadillo stall (Spain), to scheduled and franchised food trucks (United States). It is a mobile and complex system that consists of the producers of raw materials, the makers of the actual dishes, the transportation and infrastructure that bring them to the venues in which they are served, the governing bodies that allow their selling, and the vendors and consumers themselves.

Globalization and diaspora

In many ways, I have discovered that street food is a symbol of globalization and diaspora. Many of them hail from other countries, but with local flavor. Consider goroke, the Korean version of the French croquette. Or hotdogs in Iceland. Or shawarma in Canada. It is also a symbol of urbanization—as the population who move from rural to urban areas increase, so does the need for alternative sources and ways of distributing food.

Street food as identity

I believe that street food is a vital part of the culture and identity of a city. It is indicative of the sustenance immediately afforded by its geography. But more than that, it is a symbol of a people’s resourcefulness, creativity, and survival. They tell us stories about ourselves.

Eating and perception

Eating street food fires up all the senses, which are the center of my larger body of work. Street food conjures up memories of childhood and gives strangers a shared experience of a meal. These drawings themselves are interpretative; more than documenting what they are, I also draw how they’ve made me feel, and write the memory I have about them.

Follow the project’s Tumblr here.

P.S. Drawings up every Monday!

P.P.S. As I am based in Seoul, many of these posts will be about Korean street food, though I will draw all the other street foods I’ve eaten in other countries, past and future. But if you wish, you can submit photos of street food from your country and I can try it out and draw it. Or submit your own drawings, following the format I’ve started. The link to submit is here.

The Movable Feast, where eating means research. Thank you for checking it out.