Mr. Kang Moon Gyu is the head of the Institute of Ecology and Culture for Mt. Halla and ex-head of the editorial department of the Halla Ilbo. He is interested in preserving the ecology and culture of Jeju.
In early May, Jeju is bustling with life. After the pink petals of the cherry blossom trees fall to the ground, the island is covered in waves of yellow yuchae flowers and green barley. During spring, the island is a patchwork of pinks, yellows, and greens. May, called “the queen of four seasons” in Korea, is certainly famous in Jeju, both now and in centuries past.
Of course, this is not unique to Jeju. The world over, poets have written about spring and flowers. But in Korea, Jeju is a scenic haven for romantic poets. Bangseonmun Valley, a gate to the Taoist celestial land, is the site of a spring flower-viewing festival hosted by poets who long ago would carve their poems into boulders.
The Hwajeon Festival of Jung-i village is another noteworthy spring season event. At this time of year, the regional government invites all islanders to the village to celebrate and eat hwajeon, a pan-fried sweet rice cake made with flower petals. Government officials take the time to listen to the difficulties of the people and encourage unity.
Spring here is a pleasant time not only for people, but also for nature. Flowers decorate fields stretching from the sunny seashore to the island's highest point, the 1,950-meter peak of Mt. Halla. After spending a long, boring winter in barns, horses and cattle wander about the fields, grazing on fresh green sprouts.
Unfortunately, spring is too short. A Jeju's traditional song called bongjiga (bongji means blossom, and ga means song) is a plaintive melody about falling flower blossoms. The song’s chorus goes like this: Flowers are fading. Flowers are fading. Flowers are fading from spring-flowering shrubs.
Considering that the song was sung by young gisaeng (a kind of Korean geisha), the words “flowers are fading” actually have a dual meaning. It implies the change of the seasons, and the entry of young ladies into society as married women (and the loss of one's virginity.)
On this fine spring day, I'd like to invite you to our island, where spring has come in earnest.
Festivals in May
The 4th Gapado Barley Festival (April 23 ~ May 20, Gapado island) Gapado, a small island with 200 or so residents, offers a tranquil getaway from the hustle and bustle of Jeju. The trip to Gapado begins with a 20-minute ferry ride from Moseulpo Port.
You can really enjoy the hidden charms of the island if you take an overnight trip. Of note, the pure green barley in the morning dew and golden color of these same fields in the red-orange of sunset. During the festival period, you'll see barley fields sway gently in the wind.
The 9th Bangsunmun Festival (May 12 ~ May 13, Bangsunmun valley) Bangsunmun is a rocky valley, the upper region of the Jeju's longest Hancheon river, in the woods. During the event, some paintings and poems on spring are exhibited in the outdoor valley gallery.
Bomok Jaridom Festival (May, Bomok, Seogwipo) Jaridom, or damselfish is found in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean near the coast of Jeju Island. At the festival, you can participate in a jari-catching event (a hands-on experience) and sample some jari for free.
(Translation by Yang Young Jae)
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