▲ Traditional musicians taking part in a parade from City Hall to the blossom festival site. Photo courtesy Jeju City Hall
Pure. Pink. Untainted. The emergence of cherry blossoms is not only a highly anticipated and celebrated event through-out Asia, but also a symbol of new beginnings. As the tiny blossoms start to unfold, excitement heightens at the prospect of another spring. Sweaters are traded in for T-shirts, stovetops replaced with grills and a new lifestyle is ushered in.
The 19th Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off on a chilly note, but the spirit and hope of spring still enveloped the festival grounds. Tents were set up amidst rape plants exploding with yellow flowers that contrasted with the cloudy sky.
Strawberries, kiwis, oranges and other fresh fruits were on sale at vendor stands. A stage set up in the center of the festival held different performances celebrating the coming of spring, and a clear view of Mount Halla could be seen in the distance between the rows of tents.
Yet there was one question on everyone’s mind - “Where exactly are the cherry blossoms?” In 2009, the festival moved from its former site near the stadium to grounds near the government complex. Although 726 cherry trees were planted last year and lined the streets around the grounds, the mid-size trees were too young to produce the grand displays seen elsewhere on older trees, where blossoms burst out like popcorn kernels.
“The festival was moved to the present site in 2009 to accommodate both the Rape Flower Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festival at a single venue,” said Jeju tourism official Ko Dae Ik. “The current site was picked to offer visitors more convenient access to the event. ”
As elsewhere in life, beautiful things take time to develop. Cherry trees are no different, requiring the same patience that is key to welcoming in a warmer season marked with fickle weather.
“The festival will take a firm hold within two or three years, when the cherry trees have grown fully,” Ko said. Until then, festival goers can still enjoy all the sites and activities the Cherry Blossom Festival has to offer.
Cups of spicy doekbokki, tasty seafood pancakes and many other delicious foods could be found in tent after tent run by different villages. For those looking to boost their ego or impress their significant other by winning giant stuffed animals, games were set up in various booths. And no festival would be complete without silly clowns perched upon tree stumps spouting nonsense to induce laughter from the crowd.
Escape from the wind and cold was provided in the form of a covered tent set up by the city of Jeju. The warmth of the tent created a sort of family hub, with children gathered around tables making craftworks as their parents wandered, looking at the different displays. At one booth, a local artist painted beautiful tapestries on request and, just a few steps along, a Jeju woman stirred a huge pot, making chemical-free, all natural soap.
While cherry blossoms were obviously the main focus of the festival, there was also an environmental undertone to this year’s festivities. Inside the main tent, creatures constructed by students from aluminum cans perched proudly on display, and huge blocks of crushed cans stood guard like recyclable soldiers around the entrance of the festival grounds.
“The special display on the environment was organized by the Korea Metal Can Resources Association,” Ko said. “Various sub competitions have been held so far from March 5 to 27 in many schools and towns around Jeju.” As night began to fall on the last day of the festival, groups of people gathered around the stage to catch the final performances. The grand finale elicited cries of excitement and admiration as models sauntered down the stage dressed in galot wedding dresses.
“The galot wedding dress was featured in the festival simply to represent the glory and purity of the cherry blossoms,” Ko said. Once the last white-clad bride made her way off the stage, the crowd dispersed and the festival came to an end.
Individual fireworks sputtered out their last streaks across the night sky, and everyone went their separate ways to start a new spring, and a new beginning.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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