10 May, 2006

Lotus Lantern Festival, April 29-30

The last weekend of April marked Buddha's birthday and brought the Lotus Lantern Festival to Seoul. April and I thought it would be fun to head west to check out the festivities. We arrived Saturday evening, and after negotiating the subway and the streets of Insadong, we finally got set up in our room at the Emerald Hotel. We caught up with some fellow Gangneung-ians and grabbed some dinner, then checked out the big temple in Insadong before calling it a night.

April and I hit the streets the next morning around 11:30. We did a little shopping, had a little brunch, and texted our friends to see when/where we might meet. Our messages were met with resounding silence, and when we finally did get a response from Marc, he told us that he hadn't gone to bed until 10:00am, would we please leave him alone. No problem, we said, we're doing fine on our own.

One of the main streets of Insadong had been blocked off and was filled with tents and booths of all varieties--alot of them with a Buddhist theme, of course. There were also alot of hands-on crafts--I did some ink painting, April and I both made lotus flower headbands with a monk, and many people made lotus lanterns. We checked out clothes and jewelry, watched old men do beautiful calligraphy, and saw some fascinating stage performances. In the later afternoon, we met our friends who were up and moving, and another friend of April's from the Seoul area came down. Being exhausted, we moved from the busy street to a cafe for a slight repose before the parade.

The Lotus Lantern Parade was pretty much just that--a lantern parade. We saw monks carrying lanterns, old men and women carrying lanterns, handicapped people carrying lanterns, children carrying lanterns, young men and women carrying lanterns...there were a few floats in there too, but mostly ALOT of lanterns. I chatted with April's friend Barkley and snapped random shots of lanterns. Several hours later, I tired of the lanterns and found myself being drawn by an unseen magnetic force into the nearby Subway restaurant. I experienced ten minutes of heaven while I consumed real western food.

By that time it was getting pretty late, so I headed back the the express bus terminal sans April, who was staying a couple more days. On arriving, I was greeted with the unpleasant news that the last bus to Gangneung was sold out. I called Taylor, Gene, and Tania (who was going to Yang Yang, forty-five minutes north of Gangneung) to see if they had got tickets, and they hadn't--they were still a few minutes away from the terminal. A cab driver looking for a fare quoted me 40,000 won for the three hour ride. I told him I had two other friends, could he wait, and would it really be 40,000 for three people to Gangneung? He said yes. I called Taylor with that information, and in the meantime purchased a ticket to Yang Yang for Tania just in case that bus sold out too. When the guys showed up, the taxi driver hustled us off to the car. He ignored us when we kept trying to confirm the price which made us a little suspicious. Gene pushed the issue until he finally got the guy to tell us that it was 40,000 EACH. We said no thanks, and made a split decision to buy tickets for the Yang Yang bus that was about ready to pull out. As we raced back to the ticket window, Tania yelled that we could stay with her. It was 3:00am by the time we got to her place. She gave us each a pillow and a sheet and turned up the floor heat. I snagged a spot of floor and crashed. At 8:00am, we caught the teacher bus with Tania to the university she works at in Gangneung. From there we got taxis home, and since I don't have to work until 1:00pm on Mondays, I was able to catch two and a half more hours of sleep before I had to drag myself around the corner. Whew! After two weekends in a row of bus mishaps, I think I might avoid the buses for awhile.

1 comment:

Neary said...

40,000 sounds like a lot... but then I did the conversion. $43 is worth it to me for my own bed. I know... obnoxious rich