Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

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Long time no blog!

So… I’m back in Korea now. (“Say whaaaaat?”)

Yep a lot has happened since my last post *cough* last year. Long story short I re-applied to the EPIK program and was accepted. I’m now living in Sejong which is right next to Daejeon. How lucky!

I’m going to try to get caught up and do a back log of some of my adventures over the past couple months, but today I wanted to show some of what I saw at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.

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A lantern parade float

I randomly decided on Saturday morning that I should go to Seoul and check out this festival that I had read about online. A lot of my friends in the EPIK program decided to go to Jindo for the Sea Parting Festival which I a) still haven’t seen but b) forgot to chime in that I maybe wanted to go haha. So a solo Seoul (Seoul-o?) trip it is!

I was able to book a hostel in Hongdae pretty easily which was lucky since my first choice place was booked up. Well, that’s what I get for waiting until the last minute. I killed time in Hongdae until I headed over to Jogyesa Temple where the festival was being held. Jogyesa is the chief temple of the Jogyesa Order for Korean Buddhism. The festival is held in honor of Buddha’s birthday, which fell on May 3rd this year in Korea. It changes every year because of the lunisolar calendar, but it’s typically in May.

It was such a sight to see! There were groups playing traditional instruments, people dressed in beautiful hanbok and other traditional clothes, and so many people carrying lanterns. And the parade floats! I’d seen pictures of past parades, but it’s a whole different thing to see them in person. I can’t imagine how long those take to craft. Plus, there were people from different places like Thailand and Myanmar marching together with their own floats in honor of Buddha. The people carrying lanterns were even just handing them to people as they passed. I got 2! One I got was shaped like a lotus, and a little girl was staring longingly at it. So I gave it to her, and she traded me the one she had. I ended up having to leave 1 behind at the guesthouse, though, because I couldn’t carry it all with me (boo!).

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The floats were parked and lined up on the street, so I got to take a good look at all of them. I also explored Jogyesa a bit. There were soooo many lanterns hanging, and it just looked beautiful at night.

I also went inside the temple to pay my respects. I just quietly stood in the back because people were praying and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I did, though, take part in the Bathing Buddha ritual. The ritual is supposed to help improve happiness and peace of mind. A person takes what is essentially a long ladle and pours water over a small Buddha statue 3 times. Each time you should say each of these things:

  1. May I eliminate all evil thoughts.
  2. May I cultivate good deeds.
  3. May I help save all living beings.

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Before I went back to Hongdae I walked down the street once more and came upon another celebration. There was a big stage set up with performers on stage (my guess is they were pansori singers, but I’m not sure). There was a large crowd watching, and also groups of people, both Korean and non-Korean, holding hands in a circle and dancing — or walking? They were walking in circles to the music anyway haha.

I honestly hadn’t expected the whole thing to be so lively. My initial thought was that since Buddha is such a revered figure that maybe it’d be a “tame” event, but it really was more like a party! I’m so glad I was able to experience it. If you’re in Korea around Buddha’s birthday you really should give it a go.

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Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

Last weekend I went with my friends to Jinhae for the cherry blossom festival. There was just over 30 of us, so we rented a bus to get there. It takes roughly 3 hours if the traffic is good. Typically during the festival it can take much longer to get there (maybe twice as long when it’s really bad), but because we were in a bus we got to drive in the bus lane.

We lucked out too since it was a bit cold the previous week, so we weren’t sure if the blossoms would be open. However, it was a clear sunny day. It was also quite crowded. If you aren’t a fan of big crowds this might not be the event for you.

We didn’t really see any performances or events even though it was the 50th anniversary. Our timing was kind of bad I guess. I heard SHINee performed the weekend before for the opening of the festival. But there’s still enough to see and it’s pretty good exercise — I wouldn’t recommend driving anywhere once you get there. What should have been a 3- 5 minute drive took maybe 20+ minutes. We ended up walking all day which was fine because of the weather.

There’s plenty of food to eat. You can sit down in one of the big tents if you feel like it or find a restaurant. If you aren’t too picky I’d just stick with street food. It’s fast and easy and there’s no wait. I don’t recommend any of the coconut stands though. I bought one for the fun of it, but the milk (water?) was kind of sour. Definitely not fresh.

Basically, it was very lovely, good exercise, and fun. You need plenty of patience, but it can be worth it. I probably won’t go back next year since we experienced it already. I hear there’s more festivals much closer to home (i.e. in Daejeon) so I’ll look forward to that.