Happy Halloween, Seoul-Style

My favorite Dead Guy and his favorite Dead Guy Ale.

So, our first Halloween weekend in Seoul has come and gone.  Today is the actual festival, and I have sent Son #2 off to school in (understated) costume as befits a world-weary 14-year-old.  He is a black-eyed pea (the legume, not the musical group), which means he has gone to the enormous trouble of painting one eye black and pinning the letter 'P' on the front of his hoodie.  Not too much commitment, but at least no one can accuse him of not participating.

MrL and I did our dressing up on Saturday night, attending a Halloween Party/Cruise on Han River with a group of friends and several hundred other Halloween fans, both expatriate and Korean. Since the evenings are quite chilly now, and the event was (mostly) outdoors/on a boat, we initially decided to go with something minimalist in the costume department - a hat, or perhaps bunny ears, which would allow us to wear our warm coats without ruining the effect.  A chance comment by MrL's brother in Arizona about his preparations for the All Soul's Procession reminded us of the fantastic costumes and makeup that go with the traditional Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observations in many Mexican communities, and we decided to shamelessly plagarize Brother G's idea go with some Day of the Dead skeleton face paint.  We could wear our regular clothes, we reasoned, and still participate in all the fun without going overboard.

As you've already observed, our plan quickly took on a life of its own, and before we knew it, 'a little face paint' had turned into fairly elaborate preparations involving several trips to various markets, a hot glue gun, and some uncharacteristically crafty millinery on my part:
Note the face paint is already beginning to peel.

By the time we had finished with our preparations, we had gone from 'a little face paint' to a full-blown Day of the Dead couple in the best tradition.

We had a wonderful time, but along the way, we learned several things, which I now pass on to you, my readers:
  • If you are going to wear skeleton face paint in Seoul, it is really better not to take the subway.  In America, where everyone at least knows about Halloween, walking around anytime in late October dressed as a pumpkin or a ghoul or a cartoon character is a socially acceptable construct.  Fellow-citizens usually smile warmly, sharing in the fun, and the costume-wearer will most likely receive more than one cheery, "Happy Halloween!"  Not quite so in Korea, where Halloween has not yet become a popular concept.  Most young people - who learn about Halloween in school - are familiar with the idea, but since it's not part of the general culture, presenting yourself on the subway in full costume does not result in the hearty camaraderie that one would expect in the US.  MrL and I stood awkwardly on the subway car while half of our fellow travelers ignored us and the other half giggled and poked each other and pointed at us. It was with tremendous relief that we met our friends at the subway stop and were no longer the only people in the station dressed outlandishly. ( I will also point out here that, of the two of us, only one of us had had the forethought to fortify himself with a shot of bourbon before leaving and was therefore feeling much less stupid  conspicuous than the other person. I'll leave it to you to figure out who was who.)
  • Skeletons are scary, especially to small children, some of whom will scream in terror upon seeing you in the subway.  In these cases, it is in no way helpful to talk consolingly to the child in English, assuring him that you are not actually scary;  from his point of view, the spectre actually talking to him in an incomprehensible language simply makes things worse.  If you are someone's mother, this will make you feel bad, especially when it happens four more times during the course of the evening.
  • People love to get their photos taken with skeletons.  After our initial awkward subway ride, and as we got closer to the party venue, we ran across more and more people who at least understood what was going on and many who thought a photo with a couple of skeletons was a great addition to their Saturday night FaceBook status.  We were stopped more times than we could count with photo requests (including one on the subway train) including a nice family visiting from New Delhi, who wanted to have their photo taken with our costumed group.  Their 3-year-old son seemed less enthusiastic, but at least he didn't start screaming like some of the others.  
  • If you are going to paint your face like a Skeleton, you should use a grease paint formula, not one that will shrink as it dries.  What this means is that you will start out looking fabulous, but the parts of your face that move, talk, eat, and drink beer (eg, the mouth), will eventually start showing signs of wear, and eventually begin peeling off in a very unattractive manner, while the rest of your friends look as fresh as daisies:

 While this adds a certain aura of authentic decomposition, it is very annoying to find pieces of your 'skin' flaking into your beer, and (in my opinion) detracts from the overall effect.  Note to self:  grease paint next time.

    • The adult beverages spirit of Halloween conviviality may move you to do things that you had not planned on doing.  In my case, this turned out to be enthusiastically munching on roasted silkworm pupae (Beondegi), a popular street food in Seoul. Yes, I knew what they were before I ate them, and yes, they were good.  Besides, most of my mouth had peeled off already, so I had nothing to lose.  

    Mmmmm.....silkworm pupae.
    However, peeling paint and silkworm pupae notwithstanding, our first Halloween in Seoul was all we could have wished.  Cool, clear weather, a beautiful cruise on the Han, and the company of good friends.  Who could ask for anything more?


    Wilma said…
    Sounds like a wonderful evening. You guys looked great. I like C's costume though. It's more my speed. LOL
    MsCaroline said…
    Wilma, it was lots of fun. And our costumes were supposed to be very low-key, originally. Guess they got a bit out of hand....
    Wilma said…
    They were really cool-looking though. Sean thought you had masks on. LOL
    Karen said…
    Just finished my own Halloween. Work was crazy but actually a bit fun...I joined a group of Smurfs with blue face paint, blue shirt and white summer capris. This was not fun in the 40 degree morning air. The kids all looked great and a good time was had by all. All were exhausted by day's end! Very low key evening. The 2 oldies dressed and went out...not really sure what they were but they looked great. The youngest one is still out there, under the supervision of her friend's Mom. She looked fabulous (she just stopped in...wants one more 1/2 hour to finish the neighborhood) as a human glow stick. Pictures will be up soon! Her own idea and execution on the costume. All Mom did was buy the glow sticks!
    MsCaroline said…
    Sounds great, Karen! Love the idea of a glow stick - must file that one away for the future!
    broken biro said…
    YOu both look absolutely fantastic - I was convinced it was a mask at first and will definitely be copying this idea at some point - although I have a history of turning up at places in full costume when no-one else has bothered to!
    MsCaroline said…
    BB: The internet is chock-full of wonderful examples of face paint(better than ours!) Who cares if no one else is in costume? I think you'd be a great ambassador for Dia de los Muertos in the UK!
    Love your description of your journey to the party, hilarious! It sounds like it was a great party! :-) and your costumes were wonderful!
    MsCaroline said…
    Circles: Thanks - wish we'd known about the face paint before we started peeling, though!
    Vandroy said…
    Hi! I really liked how you guys looked! Me and a friends of mine wanted to do something similar this halloween but we're really having a hard time finding good face paint in seoul.

    I was wondering if you could give any tips on a good place to buy face paint with a grease formula?

    We'd be very thankful for any advice!

    ps. sorry dunno if I posted twice
    MsCaroline said…
    Vandroy - we had the same problem - in fact, if you look closely at the later photos, you can see that our paint (especially mine) had already begun to crack and peel. Best advice I can give is ask a Korean friend where you could get theatrical-type supplies. They might be able to give you a good lead. We bought ours at the Halloween store near Sadang station and it was not grease paint - who knows, though: maybe they have some and we just didn't know what to ask for! Either way - good luck and enjoy!

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