Seoul Sonnet

How do I love Seoul? Let me count the ways.
I love the smell, the sight, the touch, the sound,
Of subways and shopping malls kept underground;
A fun way to spend time during commute delays.

Up above ground, under a clear blue sky,
I love the city parks in which to play,
Where Seoulites can relax and spend the day
In nature, away from traffic nearby.

A love the combination of old and new,
Aged palaces and temples sharing space
With modern high rises in the same place.
And I love the Han River flowing though.

I love the parties in the streets of Seoul,
The many festivals and fun celebrations
That unite people from different nations.
It's these occasions that make a city whole.

There's so much more that can't be counted in lists,
Like the joy in finding new places to explore,
Or the change in oneself that can't be ignored.
But perhaps what's most important is this:
No matter what I do or where I roam,
I love how this city always feels like home.

Hi Seoul Fest & Lotus Lantern Fest

This weekend was the beginning of the colourful Hi Seoul Festival, spring edition. As one of the biggest and best of all Seoul's festivals, organizers have decided to multiply the fun times four. This year, for the first time, the festival will be held once a season instead of just once a year. And because one huge festival is not enough for a city of 10 million residents, the Lotus Lantern Festival also commenced this weekend. This festival is a week-long celebration of Buddha's birthday.

Lotus Lantern Fest at Cheonggyecheon

Lotus Lantern Fest at Cheonggyecheon

Over the weekend, I managed to attend several events, including a couple of parades, an “Imagination Factory,” and a water gun fight. Sunday night was a big night of parades. For three and a half hours, some friends and I watched thousands of people march, dance, and sing their way down Jongno Street. Unfortunately, it was a little rainy---a big no-no with parades, especially those involving lanterns---but it actually was okay. The crowds were thinner than they would have been otherwise, so those of us who braved the drizzle were treated with better views.

Hi Seoul parade
Hi Seoul parade

On holiday Monday (Children’s Day), I spent the day wandering around City Hall and Cheonggyecheon Stream, photographing the adorable children participating in the fun events Hi Seoul organized for their special day. Seoul Plaza at City Hall offered lots of crafts (that I would have done myself if I thought I could get away with it) and physical activities like trampolining and tight-rope walking (again, things I would have liked to have done myself if I could pass for a child!).

water gun fight at Cheonggyecheon
water gun fight at Cheonggyecheon

Over at Cheonggyecheon, the warm and sunny weather provided the perfect day for the largest and funnest water gun fight I’ve ever been a part of. Organizers handed out water guns to the kids (and towels to their parents) and let the children loose. Anyone brave enough to be in the area was guaranteed to get wet, but no one was complaining. It was definitely the highlight of my weekend.

Since the Hi Seoul Festival continues until next weekend, I’m thinking of going back for a rematch...

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Coronation of King Sejong
Having Fun in the Streets of Seoul
Children's Day at Hi Seoul Festival

Jinju Lantern Festival

13-14 October 2007

For my first weekend out of the big city of Seoul, some friends and I decided to check out a lantern festival. After all, what do you think of when you think ‘Asia’? Paper lanterns. Well, paper lanterns, Chinese food, pandas, Buddha, crazy cool fashion, and anime. Or is that just me?

Jinju, which is as far south as Busan, was a 4 hour bus ride away. We splurged on the “deluxe" bus and were rewarded with reclining seats, so I was able to sleep for most of the ride. When we arrived in the early afternoon, we realized we didn’t have much of a plan. What’s there to see in Jinju?

If we had actually done some research, we would have known about the Jinju Fortress, where less than 4000 Korean soldiers stopped 20 000 invading Japanese during the Imjin War in 1592. But instead we spent our time wandering the streets looking for a cheap place to spend the night.

According to the lantern festival brochure I was handed outside the bus terminal, this festival originated from that same battle. Lanterns, floating along the river and flying high in the sky, were used during the invasion here to send signals to troops.

After the beondegi experience livened up our afternoon, we finally headed to the festival. We passed by a few roasting pigs lining the fairway before the crew decided to indulge on a classy pork dinner under a yellow and red striped tent. My stomach refused to accept anything else from me for the rest of the night, so I instead admired the distant lanterns I could faintly see floating on the river. There were the traditional North American fairway games, too, like balloon darts, basketball, shooting practice, and knocking down bottles with a ball. We even spotted a traditional carny with a long ponytail!

thousands of prayer lanterns along the river

thousands of prayer lanterns along the river

A glowing long wall of red lanterns reading “Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival” officially welcomed us to the festival. There was wall after wall, tunnel after tunnel of these red, rectangular lanterns, which I assume are the “prayer lanterns” the festival brochure describes. These prayer lanterns are supported by the citizens of Jinju, and are silent, glowing prayers for things such as “parents’ long lives” and “students’ exams”.

On the river were huge floating lanterns, colourful and bright. Some depicted scenes from what I can only assume are Korean fairytales or folk stories.There were lotus flowers, men with devil faces, dragons, Dalmatian dogs, men with giant earlobes, soldiers, wagons, children, turtles, women with fans, snails, drums, elves, houses, families sitting down to eat, the Statue of Liberty, and seemingly everything else under the sun. We wanted to take a boat cruise down the river to get a closer look, but they were already booked hours in advance. I wished the buildings along the river would turn out their lights so that just the glow of the lanterns would radiate into the night sky.

In addition to the shining lanterns, fireworks suddenly shot up into the sky while we were admiring the view. The show was amazing. Five locations in the middle of the river simultaneously exploded with fireworks in an incredible display that seemed like the finale the entire time.

After the fireworks ended, we finished our walk along the shore and crossed a bridge. I stopped dozens of times in an attempt to capture a photo that would properly showcase the amazing display of lanterns, but finally I realized I just needed to enjoy it with my own eyes. We happened upon a stage with taekwondo performers, who, to our enjoyment, added nunchaku (nunchucks) to their performance. The grand finale of the festival was a water fountain light show, Vegas style.

The cold air turned us in the direction of our hotel for the night. The festival was over for us, this year.

Van Gogh once said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” After visiting the Jinju Lantern Festival, I now know he’s right.

How I Accepted a Dare and Won the Title 'Princess Beondegi'