Korea in bloom

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Korea in bloom

In Korea, the arrival of spring means many things: new buds on the trees; flowers in the fields; a gust of sinus-irritating “yellow dust” from China.
It also means a wealth of regional flower festivals all over the country, dedicated to cherry blossoms, azaleas, rape flowers and camellias, among others. (And while it doesn’t actually have anything to do with flowers, Gyeongju’s annual liquor and rice cake festival is always a welcome sign of the season as well.)
From Seocheon, South Chungcheong Province to Jeju island, the countryside is in bloom. Here’s your chance to experience Korea at its most beautiful.

Jeju’s sea of yellow (April 9-10)

Part of the mustard family, the rape plant is known for the canola oil produced from its seeds. But on Jeju island, it’s perhaps better known for the brilliant yellow of the plant’s flowers.
On Jeju, the rape flowers start to bloom on Mount Seong, then work their way down the mountain until the whole island seems to be bursting with yellow.
South Jeju and North Jeju counties hold the Rape Flower Festival on alternate years. The 23rd annual festival will be held April 9 and 10 in Gyorae village in North Jeju.
The festival’s key events include the KBS National Song Contest on April 9, a traditional farmers’ folk dance (poongmulpae), cockfights and a performance on horseback of the Korean martial art masang muyae. There’ll also be a Mongolian folk music performance, and organized excursions up (and around) Mount Daerok.
Towns and villages in North Jeju will have food festivals and open markets so that visitors can sample the island’s traditional fare. Visitors can also go horseback riding on Jeju’s famous ponies.
For more details, call (064) 741-0544 or visit www.bukjeju.go.kr.

Yeosu’s royal azaleas (April 2-10)

Mount Yeongchui, near Yeosu in South Jeolla province, is famous for its camellias, but it also has Korea’s largest stock of azaleas, a flower immortalized in “The Azaleas,” a bitter poem of love’s end by Kim So-wol that is perhaps Korea’s most famous verse. (“When you leave, weary of me, I’ll bid you silent farewell. An armful of azaleas culled from the hills of Yongbyon I’ll strew over your path.”)
Mount Yeongchui will be in full purple bloom when the Yeosu Mount Yeongchui Azaleas Festival holds its main events on April 2 and 3; these include a singing contest, a candlelight vigil on the Heunggeuksa temple grounds and performances of pansori and other traditional music.
There will also be a ritual ceremony to honor the mountain gods. Until the late 19th century, the people of Yeosu partook in the ritual to pray for rain. These days, they pray for unification and for regional development. Visitors can partake of the azaleas’ opulence by hiking around the mountain (and can help beautify it by joining a trash-pickup volunteer effort). There’ll be local delicacies for sale throughout the festival.
The festival will last from April 2 to 10. For more information, call (061) 691-3104.

Flowers and octopi (to April 8)

When you see a lovely, pink camellia, what’s the first thing you think of? That’s right ― an octopus.
Well, you might if you’re from Seocheon county. From tomorrow to April 8, this odd combination will be celebrated in the sixth annual Camellia and Octopus Festival.
You probably have some questions already. Seocheon county, it seems, is blessed with copious amounts of camellias, which come into bloom in March and April. And with a port nearby, fresh octopus is a local delicacy, one that people drive miles to partake of. So there you have it.
County officials recommend a visit to a camellia forest in the western part of the county, which has some trees as old as 500 years. Camellia Pavilion, on the forest’s highest hill, is said to offer an impressive view of the sunset. On the festival grounds, there’ll be an octopus market, where they’ll be serving ’em up pan-fried, boiled and however else you like. And there’ll be a shellfish-catching competition. And pottery-making. Why not?
For more information, call (041) 950-4613.

Mount Yudal in bloom (April 2-5)

Near the port city of Mokpo in South Jeolla province is Mount Yudal, which is bursting with yellow and white flowers around this time of the year.
The forsythia and white cherry blossoms come into full bloom in March, and every year the city hosts a festival to revel in the mountain’s spring garb.
This year, the festivities will be held from April 2 to 5.
The 10th annual Mount Yudal Flower Festival’s main events include a street parade, demonstrations of traditional folk dances (such as ganggangsuwollae), a traditional fan dance, kite flying and a play based on the life of the 16th-century Korean hero Admiral Yi Sun-shin.
Visitors can get hands-on flower experience with a flower drawing contest, a chance to create postcards with flowers and decorate food with flowers.
Other fringe events include a dance performance by the city ballet troupe, as well as classical and traditional music concerts. There will also be a singing contest for tourists.
For more information, call (061) 270-8440~3.

Sul in Gyeongju (to March 31)

This event has nothing to do with flowers, but it wouldn’t be spring festival season without it. Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, is replete with historical artifacts and monuments, but for the next several days, more attention might be devoted to alcohol.
The Korean Traditional Drink and Rice Cake Festival, which runs from tomorrow to next Thursday, will celebrate rice cakes (ddeok) and traditional rice wines, a combination that symbolizes hospitality toward guests in the Korean home.
On offer in Hawangseong Park will be a rich variety of both, along with other traditional foods that have been passed down through the generations. Key events include a songpyeon-making competition (songpyeon is the sticky rice cake served at Chuseok), a cutting-rice-cakes-while-blindfolded contest and wine tastings.
Other events include Silla pottery and ceramic exhibitions, street parades, music concerts, and traditional mask painting. During the festival, visitors will also be able to see traditional Korean ceremonies enacted, including wedding, funeral and ancestral worship ceremonies. For more information, visit sulddeok.gyeongju.go.kr. or call (054) 779-6399.

Naval blooms (March 30-April 8)

The city of Jinhae in South Gyeongsang province is home to the Korea Naval Academy (and to Korean naval headquarters), but it’s also known for the cherry blossoms that virtually cover the city in the spring. As of Dec. 2003, Jinhae had more than 260,000 cherry trees.
Every year since 1963, the city has hosted the Jinhae Naval Festival, also known as the Cherry Blossom Festival, which lasts for 10 days when the blossoms are at their peak. This year it’s from March 30 to April 8.
The festivities include an opening ceremony with fireworks and music by a Navy band, military parades, traditional cultural performances and, at the naval base, a Chinese circus.
On the naval base, which will be open to the public, visitors can take pictures of a replica of one of the famous “turtle ships” commanded by Admiral Yi Sun-shin that defeated the Japanese fleet in the late 16th century. The festival also features essay contests and a parade in honor of the revered admiral.
But of course, the visitors are mostly in Jinhae for the resplendent display of cherry blossoms. For more information about the festival, visit www.jinhae.go.kr or call (055) 548-2114.

by Choi Jie-ho
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