▲ The 2010 Jeju Lantern Festival lights up the Iho Coastal Road, featuring Chinese acrobats and Russian dancers, and more than 1,000 illuminated sculptures. Photos by Alpha Newberry
Does something wicked this way come?
Heading west from Jeju City toward Iho Coastal Road, a concentration of powerful night-time lights lures any onlooker into its lantern den of colors.
A lengthy reflective dragon, dignified white tiger, Buddhist stupa, dancing Russian women and acrobatic Chinese men – leaving little to the imagination – all await those who enter through a recreated Namdaemun, closely guarded by a massive blue dolhareubang.
Despite its shortcomings, the 2010 Jeju Lantern Festival is an ambitious display of lights and bravado. Located along the sea in Iho Land, east of the beach, the nightly event geared for families and friends runs through June 27.
“Even though Jeju is one of the best and favored tourist destinations in the nation, there are not so many things to see or enjoy in the late evening,” said Mun Kyung Man, chairman of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Tourism Business Association.”Because of this, we are hosting the Lantern Festival this year.”
The event is similar to a stateside carnival minus the grit and questionable carnies. Jeju’s Lantern Festival includes 50 large lanterns and more than 1,000 smaller ones, stage performances by Chinese circus acts and Russian traditional dancers, carnival games, food tents, and cuddly roaming mascots for the children and young at heart.
The inaugural festival is “experimental,” Mun said. But the hope is that it will lead to another year. If so, it will need a change of venue because the current space is the future home of an amusement park. In addition, Mun said, being so close to the sea, the wind is a detriment to the artistic lantern pieces.
These are the main draw of the festival, with roots in celebrating Buddha’s Birthday on May 21. The can’t-miss lanterns are many, taking visitors around the world and back home.
Centrally located, the Crescent Moon Path lantern display invites people into the vast, gravel-packed space to the netherworlds of the Osaka Castle of Japan, Myanmar’s Golden Rock Pagoda, the Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia, the Brunei Masjid, the Sultan Omar Saifuddin Mosque, a Spanish merchant ship and the historically re-created Korean Hwangryong Temple Nine-Story Wooden Stupa.
For the children, there are mystical places such as Aladdin’s Castle, the Happy City, Riches, The Promise of Roses, Pinocchio, the Infant World, and Walt Disney’s Castle.
Closer to home, “The Love for Jeju Island” lantern describes “an engagement scene in Jeju Island of a pure white crane, a peony blossom symbolizing riches and honors [and] a heart-shaped structure in strange and colorful lights.” In addition, “Fantastic Jeju Island” and “Pony” lights inspire.
Grandest of all the lanterns is the 100-meter “Ascending Dragon.” With yellow and red lights, its scales are made of compact discs to reflect colors and the body is completely transparent.
Next to each impressive lantern are unimpressively translated signs in four languages: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
The festival started May 5 and, according to organizers, attracts roughly 1,000 visitors each weekday night and 3,000 visitors every Friday and Saturday night. Guesstimates by foreigners in attendance on various nights see the numbers as lower. Mun hinted that extending the festival’s run until the end of August was possible if more visitors seemed likely.
This may be feasible as the summer tourism season looms.
“The visitors are varied,” Mun said. “The purpose of the festival is to create a cultural space where both local residents and mainland tourists can mingle and enjoy Jeju together.”
The most popular area for visitors is the three times nightly stage acts of gyrating Russian women and male Chinese contortionists. The one-hour shows start at 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The festival runs nightly from 6 p.m. to midnight. Admission prices are 6,000 won for Jeju residents and 12,000 won for others.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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