[This article was jointly covered by Aju Business Daily reporters Kim Joo-heon and Hoang Phuong Ly]
SEOUL -- A rare scene involving thousands of people roaming freely inside a city square to enjoy summer festivities just like the pre-pandemic times was unfolded in Ansan southwest of Seoul on May 5's Children's Day. Couples, friends, and families applauded and burst into happy laughter while watching a variety of performances and participating in events and games.
While many visitors wore a mask, just like they did for the last two years, about one-fifth of them enjoyed the luxury of strolling through the square without one. Eased government regulations had made it non-compulsory for people to wear a mask in a public outdoor environment since early May. Some people had their masks hung loosely by the neck, so they can be put right back on when someone approached for a conversation.
"This is the first time we got out together for a date since we got married," Jung sang-hyun, a 35-year-old, said. Jung and his wife So Ri-na visited Ansan's Street Art Festival to watch street musicals and plays. "We came to watch plays and shows because I love watching them," she said.
Ansan Street Art Festival is an annual four-day event involving various street performers and art teams. However, the festival was suspended for two consecutive years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost every festival and street performance were suspended in South Korea since 2020 when the first wave of the pandemic hit the country. The government's social distancing guidelines regulated the number of people at gatherings, striking a crippling blow to South Korea's performing arts industry.
"We had to interact with fans through online performances for the past year and a half because of the pandemic. It's an honor to perform in front of this audience," Kim Sun-hyuk, a 31-year-old street performer, said after receiving a round of applause for a performance by his team "Force." Kim's team captured hundreds of audience on the first day of the festival through a powerful and vibrant acrobatic performance using a four-meter circus pole. Force's crews skillfully climbed and jumped off the tall pole. Members of Force wore a wide grin on their faces as audience gave out a series of thunderous cheers.
"I was very nervous while preparing for the event but it was a pleasure just to be able to be together with so many people," Ansan Cultural Foundation official Kim Eun-jung told Aju Business Daily. "We will invite not only domestic performance groups but also foreign performance teams next year so we can come up with more diverse programs. We will try our best to make it as South Korea's representative festival."
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