Tricky little bastards

Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
Trip End Oct 25, 2007

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'd been patient, quietly waiting for my chance. Routes had been drawn up, re-drawn up and memorised. I was aware of the battle I faced, but was still quietly confident of victory. My foe was bigger, stronger and more experienced than I was, but that didn't faze me. Could I experience the beauty if the cherry blossom flower before it was ripped away for another year by that sneaky mother, Nature? I know where my money was...

I'd done the research, asked the important people the important questions and worked out that the cherry blossom window opens sometime early April and closes sometime mid-April, giving an at best 3 week window. I say at best as everything is dependant on Nature. She may decide to warm up early, or like this year, warm up late, thus dramatically changing the time available to appreciate these tiny, white wonders of Korea.

According to more than one Korean I spoke to, the best place to view the cherry blossoms was a few hours on a bus south of Seoul, in Jinan City. But because the winter weather just wouldn't let go, this years Cherry Blossom Festival had to be cancelled as the flowers weren't in bloom for long enough. So I decided to just scope out the blossom situation in Seoul. I was given two names - Gyeongbokgung and Yeouido.

Gyeongbokgung was the royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in 1395 by King Taejo, burnt down in 1592 by the invading Japanese and the rebuilt in 1868. To me, it's decent on it's own, but apparently unmissable during cherry blossom season. Of course, the locals already knew this, and the place was swarming. Tourists, both local and foreign, all trying to get the perfect photo of themselves with the cherry blossoms in front of Geunjeongjeon - the main throne hall, Gyeonghoeru - the royal banquet pavilion in the middle of a pond, and in the grounds surrounding the National Folk Museum. Incidentally, due to a narcoleptic condition brought about by places with the word 'Folk' in the title, I did not enter the museum. But the photo opps came, eventually, and I left a satisfied, albeit tired, man.

A combination of striking skyscrapers (highlighted by the enormous gold, that's right gold, 63 Builiding) and open parkland along the banks of the Han River, Yeouido is the most popular place in Seoul for locals to come and enjoy some outdoor fun. The island is also the venue for the Seoul Cherry Blossom Festival and I had been fore-warned that the crowds would be horrendous. Prepared for the worst, I was quietly relieved when I was confronted with moderate crowds given the sunny, warm day and blooming blossoms. I later found out that the weekend before was silly crazy, and that the flowers weren't as nice this weekend. I was still well pleased, and spent an afternoon wandering the parklands, taking pictures and admiring the view. It was actually pretty relaxing and stress-free, as a Sunday should be.

Cherry blossoms are tricky little bastards. They give you a 2-3 week window, tops, and then it's over. Done, for another year. Now, for most other flowers, I wouldn't really give a flying ducky when they were or weren't in season. But cherry blossoms are special. They're stunning (see photos). As close to perfection as flora can get in my opinion. Originally from Japan, they managed to get to Korea and now turn on the beauty yearly around the beginning of April. Brilliant.

The 'Pointless Korean Fact' is back, it's been upgraded and is now more pointless than ever. This week I have a Korean proverb concerning purity of character. To avoid any suspicion of being a thief, Korean's say "Do not tie your shoelaces in a melon patch or touch your hat under a pear tree". Think about it.
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