Almost without realizing it, I’ve let almost an entire month slip by without blogging. Between traveling every weekend and being preoccupied with challenges in my homestay, blogging – and writing in general – has fallen to the wayside. There’s also the small matter of the GRE, which I’ll take at the beginning of December in Seoul. Studying for the GRE is a depressing soul-sucking process, but I’m tenaciously memorizing esoteric vocabulary and weeping over all the forgotten math that I need to drudge up from the darkest recesses of my brain. But I’m still enjoying my time in Korea in spite of this. This was going to be one massive post about all my weekends in October, but I’ve decided to break them down into a mini series. The first of which features…
October 3-4: Jinju Lantern Festival (진주남강유등축제)
The Jinju Lantern Festival is a pretty major festival in Korea. Which is saying a lot, since there seem to be festivals going on all the time.
I missed out on the lantern festival last year, so this year I was determined to go. Unfortunately, this was the first year they charged for admission, which everyone brought to my attention whenever I told them of my plans. My coteachers’ biggest complaints about the festival were 1.) the new admission fee and 2.) the crowds.
So expecting crowds and heavy traffic, I set out Saturday morning for the Sasang bus terminal. and found that already, my coteachers had been right. The bus tickets to Jinju didn’t have any times listed. Instead, you bought a ticket, waited in line for the next bus to show up and hoped it had enough room for you. Luckily the buses came frequently, and I was early enough to get on the first bus that arrived.
I sat at a window seat and a friendly ahjumma (middle-aged woman) sat down beside me. We ended up chatting for the majority of the roughly 2-hour bus ride, during which she severely overestimated my Korean ability. But somehow we continued to converse, although there were large stretches of speech that went completely over my head. We talked about her daughter and family living in California, and the times she’d visited America to see them. On this particular day, she was going to Jinju to attend a wedding, but it was unfortunate that the date coincided with the lantern festival. When we arrived in Jinju, she thanked me for chatting with her, making the time go by faster and overall a more pleasant bus ride. With much less eloquent language, I tried to repeat this sentiment and convey my sincerity. Perhaps since I’ve had a difficult time connecting with my homestay family this year, I’m especially appreciative of these small moments when I’ve been able to have warm human interactions with people in Korea.
After parting ways with my bus buddy, I went on the hunt for a coffee shop where I could wait for my friends to arrive. I stopped at a Paris Baguette only to find other ETAs having breakfast inside. It seems that no matter where I go, there’s always a good chance of running into another ETA. The (ETA) friends I was meeting arrived and then we met up with yet another group of ETAs to have lunch. We’re only reinforcing the stereotype that all foreigners know each other.
Later, after almost dozing off in a cafe, we headed over to the festival. It was a wise decision to go before it got completely dark. The festival wasn’t too crowded yet, and we walked around, enjoyed some street food, and took pictures. As the night went on, the festival did indeed become ridiculously crowded. We still managed to enjoy the fireworks before shuffling out of the festival one half step at a time.
That night we headed over to my friend Hillary’s house in Gwangyang (40 minutes away) to stay the night. It’s a lot of fun having friends all over Korea! Although we couldn’t stay long in Gwangyang, Hannah, Hillary and I took a nice walk by the river and huge field of cosmoses (and hilarious scarecrows).