On Saturday, I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Sintanjin.
Observation and celebration of cherry blossoms is a Japanese custom, but it was introduced to Korea during Japanese rule, and is one of the remaining Japanese influences remaining here today. Because the flowers begin falling from the trees only 10 or so days after first coming into bloom, people flock in crowds to view them while they can. And so, in areas noted for being filled with cherry blossoms at this time of year, there are festivals running over the two weekends when the flowers are in bloom.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to the nearest one here, and although it didn’t help that I went to see them in the dark (!), I really enjoyed the festival. Incidentally, I wasn’t planning on seeing them in the dark. I was all set to go at 1pm, and then Terri and her boyfriend said they wanted to go, and could I wait a couple of hours so they could join me? Glad of company, I agreed, and we left at 3pm, bumping into Alex as soon as we left the building – which meant waiting for him to go and get changed when he decided to join us. Then there was a whole argument about where we could catch a bus, and which bus, and whether to get a bus to the place where we had to catch the bus…
Annoyingly, having had my remark about a bus only a five-minute walk away from the apartment ignored, and after getting a taxi to City Hall, and getting on to the bus, we found ourselves heading right back towards our neighbourhood, and past the very stop I’d been talking about. It was now 4pm.
But we were a cheerful little party, laughing and chatting so that the time flew and suddenly we were the only ones still on the bus and the driver was looking very strangely at us. “This is the last stop!” he informed us, breaking into our chatter. We looked around, startled, and Alex and I hurtled off the bus despite the fact that the name on the stop was clearly not Sintanjin. Terri’s boyfriend paused, looking confused, and said to no one in particular (since the driver didn’t speak English and we obviously didn’t know the answer): “Erm… hang on… where are we?!”
By way of some mangled Korean and a lot of miming (yes, we can mime cherry blossoms), we discovered that we had, in fact, gotten on to the bus on the wrong side of the road, travelled for an hour in the opposite direction from the festival, and ended up in some run-down little village on the outskirts of civilisation. Alex and I hurriedly jumped on to the bus again, as the driver struggled not to show his incredulity at the stupidity of foreigners, and off we went once again. It was now 5pm.
Feeling slightly sheepish, we watched as the terrain became more familiar, until there we were again in our own neighbourhood. It was now 6pm.
We decided to go on and find the cherry blossom festival anyway. “We’ve come this far,” I said encouragingly, “we might as well see the festival!”. Alex looked disparagingly at me. “We haven’t come any amount of “far” – there’s our apartment building!”. Three hours of travel, and we still hadn’t made it past the end of our street. Still, at least we couldn’t go wrong now. The bus trundled along and we resumed our chatting, laughing, not paying attention to where we were, and so on. Then, by chance, there was a lull in the conversation just as the “this stop, next stop” voice mumbled something with “Sintanjin” in the middle of it, and we all leapt up in panic and piled off the bus before we could embarrass ourselves again.
As we watched the bus driving off in the dusk, we discovered that we had gotten out at Sintanjin Hospital rather than actually in Sintanjin itself. It was now 7pm, and twilight.
It took us more than half an hour to hail a taxi. It takes about 10 seconds to find a taxi where we live, but Sintanjin is fairly remote – its hospital, more so. By the time we arrived at the festival, it wasn’t all that far off 8pm. And almost completely dark. Sigh.
Fortunately for us, the festival was still going on, and had become more of a fairground/carnival kind of affair. In the end, we were quite happy to have come at night, even though we couldn’t see the blossoms!
I’ll blog about the festival another time. But for now, I will conclude by saying that as I was in a taxi going through the city centre with another friend yesterday afternoon, I saw a spectacular array of cherry blossoms lining the streets. It really was beautiful.
Which means that I spent 7 hours on Saturday waiting and travelling to see something that I could have seen by taking a ten-minute dander down the town. Live and learn.