Though time flies, fireflies are still flitting

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Though time flies, fireflies are still flitting

A few decades ago, fireflies were common. Today, the creatures are so rare that the government plans to protect them as a national treasure.

One place that residents can still find plenty of fireflies, though, is Muju in North Jeolla province. The small town, on a remote mountainside, will hold a firefly festival from Friday to Tuesday.

The fireflies used to be so plentiful in Muju that children would stare in awe at them on midsummer nights. "I remember being amazed, seeing those beautiful golden lights," says Choi Nak-gu, a festival organizer and a Muju native. "But I was frightened at the same time because my father told me their lights were sparks from dead bodies that were being burned. That was, of course, a joke."

Parents also used to tell children a tale about a Chinese scholar who didn't have enough money to buy oil for his lamp. He caught as many fireflies as he could and stuffed them in a jar, using their golden glow to study at night and pass the emperor's exam.

Koreans have long been fond of fireflies. That perhaps is one of the reasons that the Isao Takahata 1988 animated film "Grave of the Fireflies" was one of the most sought-after black market movies of its era. (It was made before the ban on Japanese cultural products was lifted.) Viewers would cry after the movie's young brother and sister starved to death, and a firefly flitted away, symbolizing the girl's spirit.

The Muju festival doesn't feature clips from the movie. But its focus is clearly on appreciating the beauty of life and nature.

The festival's highlight will be nightly shuttle bus rides, at 7:30, to the fireflies' habitat.

A visit to the event's Firefly Ecology Pavilion is also recommended. It has exhibitions detailing the life cycle of the firefly. "Inside the pavilion, a visitor can become the Chinese scholar who studied under the fireflies' light," Mr. Choi says. English interpreters will be provided if visitors call in advance.

The Korean National Railroad will run package tours to the festival. The program, from Friday to Sunday, includes sightseeing to a Buddhist temple and a cornfield in the area. The KNR's one-day program costs 39,800 won ($35). Its two-day, one-night program, including accommodation, is 87,500 won.

For more information about the train tours, call 02-717-1002. For additional information about the festival or to arrange interpreters, phone 063-320-2469.

by Chun Su-jin

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