Snapshots of the Boryeong Mud Festival


It’s 8:45, Friday night, and I will be on a bus for the next three hours. The bus will carry me and a group of 50 other people down to Boryeong, where one of South Korea’s most popular festivals starts the next day. This is the “Boryeong Mud Festival,” a two week extravaganza based around the idea that it is fun to cover oneself in mud. That it’s fun to jump in mud, play in mud, and throw mud in your friends’ faces. Riding the bus, relaxing, I imagine what might happen over the course of the next two days. I’ve brought my camera with me. I’m, perhaps pathetically, thinking about the blog post I’ll write about it. It’ll have pictures and hilarious stories. Obviously. Granted, I don’t know what those hilarious stories will be, but I’m confident they will happen, organically, like how mud just sort of happens. One doesn’t have to force mud. Sand gets wet, and the magic happens. I’m positive my blog about the festival will be a real winner. What should I name it? I’m thinking perhaps “My Name is Mud,” after the Primus song. No, why would I do that? I don’t even like Primus. What about “Mud Gets in Your Eyes”? Sort of a play on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Again, I don’t like it. Coming up with the title is going to be difficult. I will wait for it, like a meal ordered at a restaurant, to come to me.


Last year, I remember talking to my friend Toronto. “You going to the Mud Festival?” I asked him. “No man,” Toronto said. “I’m 30. Why would I want to roll around in mud?” It was a damn good question. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m not going either. We’ve gotten too old for this shit.” There’s nothing more embarrassing than middle-aged men rolling around in mud. I didn’t go, and spent the weekend at a Buddhist temple instead. I felt it was a mature decision. But this year my friend included me in on a modestly priced excursion down, so I figured what the hell, I would roll around in the mud. I’ve heard it’s good for the skin.

I wouldn’t be showing immaturity by going. I would simply be trying to get properly exfoliated.


7:30 AM Saturday morning, I’m sitting on a picnic table drinking beer and smoking skinny Korean cigarettes. I’ve been drinking and smoking all night long. The sun is up and I’ve purchased a small carton of milk to help settle my stomach. There are four other guys who have stayed up all night drinking as well. One of them is a US soldier. He spent some time in Afghanistan and now he’s here, stationed in South Korea. We talk about war and girls, and what he’ll do after his time in the service is over. Most of all, we talk about North Korea. He says they tried to launch a rocket at the USA, and that everyone in the military knows about it but the media was stopped from reporting it. I nod although I don’t believe him. He’s probably right and there are secret rockets being fired all the time. An hour later I’m too sleepy to talk about rockets and death, and I stagger up into the pension and fall asleep on the floor beneath the sink.


The Boryeong Mud Festival began back in 1998. The small city of Boryeong was using mud from its flats in cosmetic products and decided to throw a festival for promotional purposes. Mud from the flats was brought to the beach in trucks and used to create a giant mud pavilion. They set up a mud slide, a mud pit, mud wrestling, colored mud for body painting, and an entire mud obstacle course. I wake up on the floor under the sink around 11:00 on Saturday, someone brushing their teeth above me. My friend who I came down with is gone. I can’t find anyone I know and my phone is dead. I end up going to the beach with two South Africans girls I’ve never met before in my life. We wander over to the mud pavilion and use paint brushes to lather ourselves in mud. I think I’m still drunk. The mud is thin and watery and feels cool and nice. One of the girls pours mud over my head. Everyone is coated in mud and they look sort of grayish blue, kind of like aged smurfs. My stomach is turning and I lose the girls in favor of getting noodles at a corner store. I try to find them again, but can’t.


4:00 PM on Saturday. I start thinking about the upcoming blog. What is there to write about? For the duration of the actual festival, I’ve either been searching the beach for my missing friends or trying to sleep off my hangover. I still can’t think of a title. I’m sitting on a staircase at the base of the beach, and two Koreans approach me. They’re from an organization called “The World Peace Initiative.” They hand me a dry erase board. I look at it. It says, “Peace Is” and then is blank. They ask me to write my definition of the word ‘peace.’ They will then photograph me holding the board and put the photo on the Internet. I stare at it blankly. I can’t think of anything to write. What is peace? Does peace involve secret missiles? I eventually jot down a quick definition and they snap my photo. I feel like a fool. Soon I will be on the Internet, covered from head to toe in grey mud, holding a board that says, “Peace is people living in harmony and not killing each other.” It’s not a dictionary definition, but I feel it summarizes ‘peace’ adequately enough.


I’m back with the two South African girls. 4:30 AM Sunday morning and we’ve been in a bar all night long. I’m happy that I’ve only had a few drinks, as my body still hurts. My blog has gone to hell, I think. I didn’t take a single photograph the entire time, and nothing very interesting has happened. The only evidence I was even here in Boryeong is the picture The World Peace Initiative took. I feel happy though, because I’m drinking with the two girls and a really funny American guy and at least I’m not alone anymore. I’m beyond exhausted and still don’t know what happened to my friends, but it doesn’t matter. One of the girls is speaking without direction, sort of stream-of-consciousness style, and she mumbles the phrase, “Mud, sweat and tears.”

“That’s it!” I declare in my head. The name of my blog will be “Mud, Sweat and Tears”! But really, there are no tears and there isn’t any sweat, either. Only mud. Lots and lots of mud.


One week later I search the Internet for my “Peace Is” photo. I find a gigantic gallery on The World Peace Initiative website, but I am glaringly absent. So there you have it. There are no snapshots of the Boryeong Mud Festival, not a single one. I have nothing to show anyone, and no hilarious stories to relate. I don’t even feel up to lifting the clever title from the South African girl. All in all, it was nothing more than 3 simple days spent by an American living in South Korea, hoping something interesting would happen.

I wonder if mud ages. The Earth is always getting older, and that must mean mud gets older too. Really, if you think about it, the Earth looks pretty damn good for its age.



14 thoughts on “Snapshots of the Boryeong Mud Festival

    • Hey girl! It twas aiiight. If nothing else, it’s a good example of what it’s like to live over here, with the odd events, the talks of war, and lots and lots of long drinking sessions. To any extent, it was fun both to attend and to write. And you also are aging brilliantly! I think…

  1. Not all snapshots are photos. Looking for your friends and finding South African girls instead, sleeping under a sink, talking with a soldier. Very interesting and gave plenty of snapshots. I think I would prefer the images in my head to any you would have made with your camera.

    As for the “this will make a great blog” idea, we’ve all had them. I find that the things I write about are almost never the things which I think I’m going to write about. As it happened, your post was about the mud festival, but had almost nothing to do with it, and was all the better because of that. (If that made any sense).

    • Yo 1 Point! Thanks man!

      Yeah, the “this will make a great blog” idea is sort of like the cliche in the movies where the guy is an author or something and he’s gonna write a novel, so he goes someplace to write it, the novel doesn’t work out, but he has a bunch of interesting experiences throughout the movie and ends up writing about that instead and wa-la, he’s famous! Actually, I hate that story arc. So overused, man! I don’t know what I’m ranting about now. Take care, bro! Peace!

  2. I always feel like when I enter a situation expecting to be entertained, more often than not I am let down. It reminds me of that Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” Great post, nonetheless!

    • Thanks Waiting! You must’ve done the mudfest at some point. If not, I’m gonna find you and throw mud at you. haha. Not really. We could just hang and listen to Peggy Lee instead.

  3. My aussie friend refers to those skinny cigarettes as bitch sticks. Since then, I can’t puff one without smirking.

    Most people post heaps of photos to compensate the lack of words anyway.

    • Yeah, the stores in Boryeong didn’t carry Marlboro’s. I was really surprised, and I guess I kind of panicked, not knowing an alternative cigarette to order, and ended up shouting out the brand name of the bitch sticks. I smoked three and then lost the pack, which was fine with me.

    • Coolio girl! Actually, in all honesty, visit all the other Asian countries first. They’re way more interesting and fun to visit. Korea is really pretty dull and has very little for a tourist to do. Although it’s pretty weird and can be interesting if you don’t have your expectations too high.

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