Spring has finally come to Korea and with the spring has come warmer weather, cherry blossoms, and tons of festivals. Two weekends ago we went with a tour group called Enjoy Korea (a different company than the one we went with to Seoraksan, thankfully) to the Jindo Sea-Parting Festival. Jindo is technically an island off the southwest coast of Korea, but it is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Once a year something strange happens with the tides so that the sea between the mainland and the island parts and creates a narrow land bridge you can walk across from one side to the other. This sounded like an interesting natural phenomenon, so we decided to go. We didn’t quite realize when we signed up that the sea-parting happens at 4 am and that we would have to get up around 3am on Sunday morning to see it, but by the time we figured that out, we thought, what the hay, it’ll be an adventure.
Jindo is a five hour bus ride from Daegu, but we stopped in Boseong on the way there on Saturday to see the green tea (or 녹차, nokcha) fields. These are the quintessential fields you see in tourism brochures and travel magazines. It was raining lightly most of the day, which actually made the tea fields very atmospheric because there was this rolling mist over the whole thing that was pretty cool-looking. It did make climbing up the terraces a little challenging since the paths were very muddy. Still, it was really beautiful and we were excited to go.
At the bottom of the tea fields was a restaurant that sold several popular Korean dishes, each infused with green tea in some way. For example, for the bibimbap (a traditional dish made of rice and vegetables that you mix together with red pepper paste), the rice was steamed in green tea instead of water, turning it faintly green. Below the restaurant was a café that served some of the most delicious green tea ice cream I have ever had. I might have had two cups.
After a few hours in Boseong, we continued on to Jindo. We ate dinner in the town and then drove to our hotel and tried to get to bed early since we had to be back on the bus at 3:15 am to get to the festival. Jonathan and I shared a Korean-style sleeping room with three other people, meaning that we all slept on the floor. After a few hours of sleep, we got up and headed to the festival. When we arrived at the festival we bought thigh-high caution-cone orange rubber boots to wear while wading into the sea. We looked awesome.
Small groups of people were given tiki torches to help light our way through the pitch darkness after we got out into the water. We waited for a while until someone told us we could start. Many a joke was made comparing us to Moses and the Children of Israel. Then several hundred people all started tromping through the water, which was ankle deep at the beginning, but was up to our knees in the middle.
Disappointingly, because of heavy rain or some other factors, this year the sea did not actually part all the way down to the land, it just got relatively shallow. I don’t really have a concept of how deep it usually is there, so it was hard to know how impressed I should be. Regardless, it ended up being a pretty funny experience with all of us tromping out in the middle of the water in these thigh-high boots holding tiki torchers that were continually getting blown out by the wind. After we’d been walking for 20-25 minutes they announced that “the sea road is closing” and we all turned around and waded back through the water to the shore.
Probably the funniest part was that there were all of this ajummas (older women) and some ajoshis (older men) stumbling around with these huge bags they were stuffing full of seaweed and clams and stuff. If I’ve never mentioned it before, the elderly people in Korea are major scavengers. You will see them in public parks all the time digging up random roots and things and collecting them to sell by the side of the road. I admire their resourcefulness, but you seriously never know where that stuff is coming from. Nor do you usually know what it is.
After returning safely to dry land we headed back to our hotel for a few hours of napping. We got up again and headed back to the festival around noon. This time, there was music and a parade and tons of different food tents set up. This was actually really exciting for me because Korea doesn’t have a huge international food scene. I took advantage of the opportunity and had kebab and Turkish ice cream from the Turkey tent as well as some spring rolls from the Vietnam tent. There was also some great-looking curry in the India tent and giant sausages in the Germany tent, but we couldn’t eat everything. Amusingly, the America tent just had fried chicken and lemonade.
There was a parade of some sort where people were dressed in costumes, I suppose to depict the story of the Mulberry Grandmother. As far as I understand it, the story is that there was a tiger loose on this island, so the people were fleeing, but the Mulberry Grandmother wasn’t able to go with her family for some reason. So she prayed and prayed that God would make a way for her family to come back to her and then God parted the sea and they were able to walk across to the island and see her. Personally, if my family left me behind on an island with a tiger, I probably would have prayed that God let my family be eaten by a tiger as punishment, but whatever. (Also I am 98% sure there are not tigers anywhere in Korea). But, that is the explanation for some of these fabulous costumes.
We are also in the middle of cherry blossom season in Korea and last Saturday we took a day trip down to Jinhae, a town on the southern coast of Korea that is known for its huge cherry blossom festival. Unfortunately, the festival was extremely crowded, so it was hard to get any of those stunning cherry blossom pictures you see in travel magazines, but it was still beautiful to walk around and see. We did a lot of walking as well as climbing the “One Year Stairs” (meaning there were 365 of them) to get a view from the top of a tower, so we were pretty worn out from our excursion. It was really great to spend time outside after such a long, gray winter.
We are looking forward to more spring activities over the next month or two and then a blazing hot summer. My parents are coming to visit at the beginning of May and we hope to see some new places and do some exploring with them. In the meantime we are trying not to let yellow dust season take us down and trying to stay on top of the mold situation in our apartment, which has become a problem again with all the damp spring air and rain. Until next time, here are some more spring pictures for you to enjoy!