Monday, April 16, 2012

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, Korea: Believe in Blossoms

I haven't posted a blog as recently as I would have liked, but I can assure you it was for the most valid of reasons. My parents endured the agonizing flight from Canada to arrive at Incheon International Airport just a few weeks ago, and thus my time was being pleasantly consumed with reuniting and such. Although I was working for a portion of their stay, we managed to spend a great amount of quality time together. I'm not just saying that because I know that this blog is public and they will inevitably read this. As it turns out, there is a direct correlation between your age, and the potential enjoyment you will get from spending time with your parents. Once you hit the age of 19, your parents start to become a tad cool, and apparently at my age they are the coolest cats in town. I can wholeheartedly say that the time Bri and I shared with my parents here in Seoul and across the entirety of Korea was wonderful. We laughed over beers, viewed ancient sights, ate a variety of Korean delights, and traversed three cities during their time here. Bri and I even had them over to our apartment for a spread of several cheeses and fruits, served with some delectable wines. Now before my parents start blissfully tearing up, and I get pegged for the sappiest blogger on the internet, let me get on with the show. On the second weekend of my parent's visit we took the KTX (Korean bullet train) down to Busan to catch a glimpse of some majestic flowers at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. Apparently, the rest of Korea had a similar idea. And with good reason.
It was the 50th Anniversary of the birth of this remarkable festival, sparking the arrival of monolithic crowds. We (Bri, my parents, and myself) took the KTX to Busan with the plan of taking a cab to the city of Jinhae for the famed festivities. Apparently, the bus lineups are horrendous from Busan to Jinhae during early April, so it was as an easy decision to negotiate a flat rate with a Busan cabby. 50,000 won later, we were on the way to Jinhae in a cozy Korean cab. Of course, the cab driver probably didn't understand the extent of the traffic that awaited him. It's very safe to say that we got the best of that deal, or should I say my father did because he was the one who generously footed the bill of that particular journey. It was one of many welcome, and exceptionally benevolent, monetary gestures made by my parents throughout the trip. Bri and I have been insanely busy in Asia since our arrival and our wallets have shown it, so we truly appreciated it. We finally arrived in the packed streets of Jinhae, and instantly understood why over 2 million other people head in this direction in early spring every year.
The above picture gives a surprising amount of information about Jinhae. Firstly, you can probably note that Jinhae is a city that has a significant South Korean naval presence. It was fairly easy to notice this right away, and I think it is evident that it made strategic sense to have a port in this specific location. Jinhae is indeed a port city, and is considered to be a district in the larger Chagwon City. Therefore, it should be noted that the festival also celebrates the famous Korean hero, and naval strategy genius, Admiral Yi Sun-shin from the Joseon era.

Secondly, the lush, snowflake-like flowers in the background may give some indication as to what this city is most famous for. It is the annual cherry blossom festival that takes place in early April each year as the citizens are shaking off their winter drowsiness. There are reported to be over 300,000 cherry blossom trees in the Jinhae area, which isn't altogether hard to believe. The official Korean tourism website captures it best when noting that, "There are so many cherry blossom trees in Jinhae that when the wind blows it seems as if it is raining cherry blossom petals." We began our own experience there by walking leisurely down the promenade, in deserved awe.
Korea's largest cherry blossom festival certainly didn't disappoint in the slightest. It was a completely unique experience for all of us to witness. The blossoms held an unmatched aesthetic beauty, but I also felt that they held important symbolic connotations. I couldn't help associate the beautiful transient nature of the cherry blossom with life itself. This can probably be attributed the fact that I've been studying Buddhism recently quite extensively. Most recently I've read Herman Heisse's "Siddhartha", Steve Hagen's creatively titled novel, "Buddhism: Pure & Simple," and currently I'm reading Sogyal Rinpoche's famed text, "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying." I feel as if I've learned a tremendous wealth of knowledge from these texts, and I'm especially intrigued with the novel I'm currently reading. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who found meaning in these beloved blossoms. Historically, Japanese Buddhists have compared the "cloud-like" nature of these flowers to the ephemeral nature of our lives. I'm not planning on packing a bag anytime soon and heading to Tibet to live in seclusion, but it's certainly important to take a step back and realize that each and every moment matters tremendously in one way or another. Life is always in impossible flux, so I suppose I'm lucky that I've always embraced and appreciated change.

So, I found myself in a beautiful Korean port city surrounded by indescribable beauty and those I love. In retrospect, I feel as if it doesn't really get much better than that. Perhaps what I've understood most as of late is that what truly matters lies in knowledge, experience, and human connection. I hope to continue to learn, travel, and be compassionate towards others. Before I know it I'll be leaving Korea and embarking on a fourteen week journey across Southeast Asia with the love of my life. But in that moment in Jinhae, I could just enjoy the cool tumbling stream and the soft, wintery cherry blossoms.
Tibet's famous Buddhist poet, Milarepa, who lived around a thousand years ago, famously stated, "My religion is live - and die - without regret." Now that, my friends, is a religion worth living by.

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