One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Corner of Korea

I went to the Jinju Lantern Festival last Saturday. If you exclude orientation, it was my first time venturing out of the city since I arrived, in whats going on, 3 weeks ago. Wow, three weeks. My fellow, yet more experienced, English teachers would laugh at this revelation. Some of them have been in Korea over a year or more now.  Forgive me, but 3 weeks feels like a long time. Strangely, it also feels like it's gone by quickly.

Jinju is a much smaller town than Daejeon. At about 330k, it's a forth of the size. Every year the city of Jinju and it's visitors display hundreds of lanterns on the river and in the air to commemorate the souls lost during the Imjin War, a period of Japanese occupation.  The story goes that lanterns were sent down the river or flown in the air as military signaling and as a way for family members to communicate their safety to one another.

I was expecting numerous pretty little paper lanterns... something like the Chinese lanterns that you decorate your dorm room with. What I found was something completely different.  They were numerous, but little they were not.  These lanterns were larger than life sized sculptures... and so intricate and colorful.. truly beautiful.  I touched a few; the material felt like a weather resistant cloth. No candles, all bulbs. Ahh the beauty of modern technology. The threat of burning the city to the ground is now greatly reduced.

Now there was a multitude of the pretty little paper lanterns.  Admittedly, this was my favorite part of the festival.  (Carolyn, I know what you're thinking. No making fun!). My sister teases me about the undeniable fact that I am (as naive as this might sound) a romantic. Go ahead, hand me my rose colored glasses. I like them, thank you! ;) Here's the truth: I like going to fairs, less for the guy they shoot from a canon into a ring of fire, and more for the way fairs make me feel.. I need to have fair food, the Farris wheel, and someone to ride it with.  I love the time leading up to Christmas... more than Christmas day itself. I habitually make every holiday a big deal.  My family would eat out on Thanksgiving if I didn't insist that we stay home. They humor me. The Jinju Lantern festival was no exception. I enjoyed seeing the large lanterns, but I could have spent the entire time in the section devoted to the small hand crafted lanterns. 

As I said, this was the Jinju Lantern FESTIVAL.  I think the concept of a festival is pretty universal.  It goes without saying that the food follows this rule. Festival food is festival food everywhere.. but maybe with a twist. The key: can we say, "fried food?" There was comfort in seeing that Koreans do as we do. Festival food = regular food that has been battered and deep fried.  I had fried Japchae (a Korean noodle dish).  Some other similarities: chintzy fair games that reward you with cheap prizes, unnecessary fees.. for example we had to pay a one way ticket every time we wanted to cross the bridge over the river.

In its own right, this festival was unique in many ways. For one, a Buddhist Temple on the mountain over looked the city.  There were many traditional Korean dance performances and an interesting selection of food. One vendor was selling ice cream and ...  cooked silk worm larvae right next to each other. I suppose you could put some larvae on your ice cream as a topping. I tried the ice cream and left the "toppings" for the next customer.  Someone in the group I traveled with said that he had tried them before and that they tasted like dirt... hmmm. I'll pass.

All in all, it was a nice weekend. I enjoyed seeing another corner of Korea.
Jinju Lantern Festival: Overlooking the river and the floating lanterns

I'm the year of the Dragon. Of the larger lanterns, I liked the dragons the best.

The small hand crafted lantern section. If I had had more time I would have made one to hang. Let let you do it for free!

A fire breathing lantern!

The inside of the Buddhist Temple that overlooks Jinju

Silk worm larvae, anyone?


  1. Ahhhhhhh the pictures look amaaaaaazing!!! You have to make the lantern one of you your fb profile picture at some point :)

  2. I'm getting such a kick out of reading your blog! Making me so jealous. =)

  3. Good call Jen, I'm on it =)

    Thanks Eric! You and your girlfriend should come on out here! =)

  4. Great joy...must be a whole new experience to get to see different and vast culture.

  5. Laxmi, it really has been wonderful to experience another country's culture. It surprises me at times, but I'm soaking it all in =)