Monday, March 16, 2009
Mission to Gwangyang Apricot Festival aborted for second staight year.
Last year I tried to go to the Gwangyang Apricot Festival but couldn't get a bus from Gwangyang. This year I tried again but it was just too damn cold. It felt kind of mild in Suncheon on Saturday, but it was snowing a little when I left my apartment.
We took the train to Hadong, because although that's a different county and an altogether different province, it's much closer to the festival site than Gwangyang (and, as I demonstrated, there are no buses from downtown Gwangyang to the Apricot Village). Normally it'd take only a few minutes to drive to the site, but because of the huge number of visitors, downtown Hadong was basically a parking lot. We got into a cab and the driver said he'd take us to the shuttle bus site a few kilometers away, although after idling for about ten minutes we decided just to walk.
And it's a nice thing we did, because it really wasn't that far away. On the edge of town is a bridge; on the far side of which is the Jeollanam-do border.
All along the hillside were apricot blossoms; to the left was a nice grove of trees, and to the right was a little outdoor market and the shuttle bus boarding area.
A lot of what you've come to expect at these makeshift markets: dollar-store items, trot music, games, handicrafts, and lots of food. Here's a big pig:
We thought about taking the shuttle bus the extra few kilometers to the Apricot Village, but as you can judge from the line it was slow-going there.
After walking a little bit, and realizing we'd be out in the biting wind for another two hours or so, we turned around and played in the riverside grove instead. Good enough for me.
I spend a lot of time writing about festivals, and I should reiterate that regardless of how fun or pretty a nature-themed festival looks on paper, consider that it becomes increasingly less-so when you invite thousands of people. Crowds lend themselves well to some events, but when you're thinking about going to an out-of-the-way festival that depends on a certain atmosphere and frame-of-mind, think about whether the oppressive crowd that will certainly be there make it more prudent to just enjoy the nature in your local park or on a nearby mountain.
Nonetheless, Hadong's residents have maintained their reputation---from the last time---as some of the nicest, most entertaining folks I've met here. Last fall we bumped into a chatty old woman who invited us to her daughter's wedding in Busan the next day (we declined) and who asked for my girlfriend's phone number. (When my girlfriend asked if she had a cellphone she lifted up her sweater to reveal it dangling from a long clip that hung from her neck.) On Saturday the taxi driver at the start of our failed mission gave us good directions to where we needed to go---and I gave him an extra 1,000 won for making him sit in traffic---, a young woman at a coffee shop (not that kind) told us all about other flower festivals in the area, and a very old man working at the festival grabbed my girlfriend and I by the hand, pronounced us married on the spot, and hollered at passing women to take pictures of this union between the US and Japan (they declined).
If you do decide to go next weekend, take the train to Hadong Station rather than a bus or train to Gwangyang. It will make much more sense to walk to the riverside set-up rather than trying to get in a cab. When you exit Hadong Station, turn left and walk about ten minutes to the bus terminal; from there, follow the line of cars to the bridge. Weather permitting you can even walk the three extra kilometers to the Apricot Village, as many people were doing on Saturday, rather then spend forever in line for the bus. If you do make it to the village, it looks quite pretty in this picture from Yonhap:
Because I don't have any other conclusion for this post, I'll post a picture of something that caught my attention at Suncheon Station:
An interesting pairing, and maybe worth comment, but then I happened across this at a baseball-throwing game at the festival:
A little tough to tell from the picture, but the target for women and children was, like, two feet away from the counter.