Monday, January 4, 2010

New Years Eve

One of the great traditions here in South Korea involves spending New Years Eve outside in the frigid cold, staying up all night and then watching the sun rise, preferably a far to the East as one can, so you can be sure of seeing the first sunrise of the New Year.  In addition, South Korea is the land of festivals - there seems to be at least one fore every town of any size and often these festivals compete against each other for the tourist dollar.  I couldn't rally any interest in "doing something" for New Year's Eve among my online friends.  One of my friends in the US suggested watching the sunrise at the Homigot Festival and since I knew I could get a bus to Pohang from Andong, it looked like something I could manage.  I was a bit nervous about taking so many buses but I figured with a three-day weekend I couldn't get too lost.  I mentioned it at the Tuesday night planning meeting for the Winter English camp and before I knew it B. had a plan for going that involved having friends of her driving their car.  This seems to happen a lot.  By the next day they had decided that they would rather attend the competing festival in Yeongdeok which was ok by me (I'll save Homigot for next year) since I would be relieved of the stress of finding the right bus connections.

Before leaving Yeongyang I decided to take a photo of the last sunset of the year from my balcony.
Well my guest drivers showed up around 7:30 and I thought we were headed straight for Yeongdeok.  It seemed as though they had other plans and before I knew it we were asked if we wanted to see his new house and being polite agreed.  It turns out that they built a new house with a medical clinic attached to it out in an even more rural part of our county.  The Mrs. K. is a nurse and has state-of-the-art computers which allow her to consult with doctors in Daegu regarding health issues of the farmers and their families.  They were particularly proud of their "health chairs" which were basically massaging Lazy Boys! After a leisurely massage it was time to hit the road and get to the festival.

Along the way we watched the blue moon rise (I's a technicality that it wasn't a blue moon here but I prefer to see it as one). Arriving in Yeongdoek we settled in to listen to the concert at the Sunrise Park which was a mixture  K-pop and what appeared to be has-been's from the last 20 years. 

Not too bad except when the ubiquitous girl group started to sing with their pre-recorded music it was a massive failure as the music kept sticking.

I decided it was too cold to simply sit around and listen to bad music so I explored the food court. I didn't understand what everything was but it sure was warmer with lots of propane heaters and assorted grills going. I did see some scary looking squid that looked like they were eying me.

When the concert on the main stage was finished, everyone went up to the plaza area and we were treated to a troupe of traditional dancers doing Ganggangsulrae.  This consisted of a series of call and response chants by women dressed in hanbok holding hands and making a series of twists and turns.  The dance is thought to have originated around 5,000 years ago when the Koreans believed that the Sun, Moon, and Earth controlled the universe. Participants would dance under the brightest full moon of the year in order to bring about a good harvest.   Next we were treated to rock concert featuring some great covers of American classic tunes with some apparently well-known Korean rock.

Next I climbed up the steps to the Grand Gyeongbuk Bell which is struck at midnight to ring in the New Year.  It was exciting and lots of people were crammed into the small temple at the top of the hill.  As midnight approached the local dignitaries (I assume) were vying for the best position to be on hand to actually strike the bell.

I went back down to the plaza area and watched a people attached their wishes for the New Year to a big "tree" which would be set alight to insure good luck in the New Year.  Overhead these lighted remote controlled birds danced in the sky and I was told later that they were their to bring us good luck for the New Year.  As the tree was set on fire, or 'Daljip burning' (burning straw under the moon), the fireworks display started.  All in all it was quite dramatic although very cold.  After the fireworks we went up to an aircraft hangar where we were assured that it would be much warmer and we could watch movies until dawn.  At first there were a lot of folks crowded into the hangar, getting as close to the propane heaters as possible.  We managed to sit through "Star Trek" but is was terribly cold and when the second feature started, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, we headed to the car to try and get warm.  At this point Mr. K suggested that we drive north to a spot that he knew of on the coast where we could watch the sun come up.

A quick nap in the car (it was actually a couple of hours) and I awoke to the first hints of sunrise. A little after 7am we all climbed out of the car and watched the first sunrise of the New Year. Mr. K told me that he had never done this before and was so happy that I talked them into going. And here I thought that everybody in Korean headed to the coast to watch the sun come up on the New Year! One of my observations about the previous night was that I actually saw very little drinking and certainly no plaza full of drunks on New Year's Eve like I would have expected back in the States. Mrs. K. told me that most people don't get drunk on New Year's Eve (must be the only night of the year as Koreans are known for their drinking) because they want to see the New Year in and insure good luck for the year. As I watched the sun come up I sent my wishes for the New Year out to the ether and felt truly glorious. We headed back home, a little tired but full of great hopes for the coming year. One final stop at the K's new house for a quick breakfast of soup and a gift of towels (I think they were given to everyone to celebrate the new house) and then home at last for a long awaited nap!  Without a doubt, this was the most memorable New Year's Eve that I can recall!!!

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