Sunday, June 2, 2013

The sights so far...: Seoul & Lotus Lantern Festival edition


For the weekend following my previous post, a good group of Incheon-ers and others from our Seoul orientation all decided to meet up for a nice Saturday hike and take in the famous Lotus Lantern Festival parade in the evening.  

According to Wikipedia, a good chunk of Koreans are Buddhist.  Perhaps the country chooses to celebrate the Buddha's birthday every year with a week long festival because of their traditions, or perhaps they do it because they like having a day off.  Either way, I was happy to see the huge lantern parade that made its way through the streets of Seoul.  

That day was quite a busy one, as a few of us decided to go for a hike up Dobongsan mountain.  I started out very keen to check out the hiking I've heard so much about in Korea.  The first thing I noticed while on our hike, Korean people are full-on kitted-out!  They have the boots, shirts, pants, hats, gloves and even poles.  Forgot your gear at home? Not a problem! There are four dozen shops selling everything you need to make it up the mountain!  Who buys hiking boots on the way to the mountain base?  Anyways, the trail was very busy that day, and a number of Koreans quickly and easily walked past this red-faced, panting (and clearly out of shape) Canadian.  I thought it was a pretty intense and steep hike, but maybe I just need to do more of them to get used to it!    We had planned to go the few hours to get to the top, but by the time we reached halfway, we looked at the time and realized that there wouldn't be time to get to the top, come back grab dinner and see the lantern show.  Something had to be sacrificed.  We all decided that it would be the sure-to-be beautiful from the top.  As I sat on a rock trying to catch my breath while gulping a liter of water, I couldn't complain.

After a quick shower, a tasty Korean BBQ dinner (meat, meat and more meat? Yes, please!) we got front row seats for the famous Lotus Lantern festival.  In this nighttime parade, there are thousands of people carrying, pushing and pulling thousands of beautiful paper (I'm not sure what other kind of materials) lanterns.  They came in many shapes, sizes and colours.  They glowed and lit up the streets as no neon signs could.  In an appeal to foreigners, some of us even got proper seats and were given our own glowing lanterns from some of the parade participants.  The parade lasts for 2 hours, and is quite a sight to behold.  


Once the street action was over, our ever growing group of English teachers and friends made our way to a popular "going out" spot in Seoul (Hongdae) to find another sort of street action.  That action involving either Soju or Makgeolli.  In Korea, it's perfectly fine to visit the local convenience store, buy some booze and enjoy anywhere your heart desires.  It's certainly a good and cheap way to get to know others and the area. After haggling with a cab driver to bring a group of us back to my friend Cory's place in northern Seoul, we were home by 4 in the morning.  How responsible of us!

The next day, I went back to Jogyesa temple area to explore some of the dozens of kiosks that had been set up to teach people about Korean traditional practices in addition to Buddhist culture found both here in the country as well as across Asia.  I found it all to be very interesting.  There were small workshops to try your hand at lotus lantern making, print making, Korean language groups and staying at a Buddhist temple (more to come on that one in a future post).  I spent a good chunk of the afternoon in the area and even made a new friend while making a large lotus lantern.

My hand-crafted entry to the foreigner lotus lantern making contest!

Jogyesa temple all decked out for Buddha's birthday!

Jogyesa temple

Buddhist monks patiently doing artwork seemingly one grain of colour at a time.
It was really quite impressive!
Expanding my social circle is something I've been trying hard to do since I got here, so I was very happy to meet a like-minded fellow English teacher.  Once our last lotus leaf was glued to the lantern, she was kind enough to bring me to the foreigner markets in Iteawon to get some treats that I haven't been able to find in regular Korean grocery stores.  Score!

                                  **Note: many photos in this post are courtesy of Cory M. and Micah C.**

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