Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Muju Firefly Festival: Part II

So, where was I? Ah, yes. I stepped off the bus in Muju and had one of those "woah, what now?!" moments. I was kind of on a high from having successfully navigated the Seoul/Korea public transportation system (with the amazing help of the tourist information hotline!), so I was feeling brave.

I randomly decided to turn right at the first intersection I came to, even though all directions looked promising. There was definitely a buzz in the air; lots of family wandering about, music all around, and the general atmosphere that accompanies summer festivals. After walking about a block I came to the stream that bisects the town. There were street food vendors, old women selling trinket-toys for kids, and even some kind of performer (not sure what he was doing but I got the magic-show feeling...) doing shows for children lining the road. As I walked along the street, I saw that there was water "toys" in the stream and probably 200 kids in the stream just playing. There was also families laid out on blankets picnicking along the stream. I was on the road kind of above the stream, so I got an kind of aerial view.

I walked to the big bridge that goes across the stream and saw kids in these weird kind of rickshaws that were operated by the passengers gently pushing up and down a the bar across their lap, which I guess connected to a robot dressed like random Korean characters. I have no idea the point of these things, since it took you simply over the bridge, but loads of families were doing it. I didn't want to be awkward taking photos of some other people, but I needed a photo. So pardon the bad angles.

I got halfway across the bridge and looked out at the party going on below me in the stream. It looked stinkin' awesome! I had the "Dang, I shoulda brought my bikini with me!" thought, but then realized that would probably be really awkward. But, they had a cool water playground. They had a trampoline, "rock" climbing wall, and a couple seesaw type things (about 4 kids could ride on the middle and it curved up on either end, and some kids in the water would push it down to rock it back and forth - pirate ship style). Everyone was having a blast!

I turned back the way I came since the other side of the bridge seemed less awesome. I walked up a different side street towards what looked like the festival-proper. I saw an information booth and figured I should get a map.

The lady who gave me a map was so sweet. She pointed out different places on the map and told me all these awesome things to do! I thanked her and walked to a little park area where kids were doing the pseudo-bungee jumping thing, making their own bow and arrows and doing practice, and getting caricatures drawn (among other activities). I checked my phone and found out that Romeo had some bus difficulties and was going to be another few hours before getting into town.

Since we hadn't really planned what to do about staying the night in this small town, I decided to ask my new friend at the information booth for some assistance or recommendation. I walked back and asked her about accommodations and heard exactly what I feared: everywhere is booked. Korea is famous for having tons of "love motels" everywhere and I guess we just figured we would be able to find one. However, she told me that she had been helping other tourists find rooms and almost everywhere was full. She made some phone calls for me and found one place in town that had a vacancy, but their prices were raised because of the festival.

My friend walked me over about 10 minutes away to the less-awesome side of the bridge (what I assume is the actual town) and to the motel. The fat old man who owned it waddled around and showed us a room that was about as rudimentary as I ever expected to see in this country. I mean, South Korea is not third world. This was extremely basic. I felt like my hands were tied and I hated making any kind of decision without Romeo there since he would have to suffer through whatever I got. With so few rooms available, we would be sharing a space. This place was super-Korean in that occupants slept on mats on the floor. This room fit the two mats and had about 1 foot to the side and 1 foot on the bottom left. It was so tiny!

I checked with my translator/friend/tourguide to double check that this was my only option and she assured me that all the other places were full and charging more too. This guy was charging 60,000 per night (about double what it normally would have gone for, and about 55,000 more than it was worth). She haggled with him a bit for me, and he asked me "American girl or Canada girl?" I wasn't sure what the right answer was, so I went with the truth. I still don't know if it was the right answer but I got 10,000 off the price (who knows, maybe Canada girl would have gotten even more off?!) After nipping down to the ATM and getting some cash for the mostly-toothless, super talkative fat motel owner, I walked back to the festival with my friend.

I thanked her profusely for helping me, and when I spoke to Romeo he reassured me that he had been calling some other motels and he was sure that I got the best deal possible. Relieved at having secured a place for the night, and relieved of carrying around my heavy backpack, I had a few hours before Romeo was set to arrive to enjoy and explore the festival. I didn't waste any time and immediately started consulting my map and wandering the festival grounds. There was a building where you can have a "firefly fantasy". I guess it is like pitch black room (called in the brochure "blind experience") with cages(?) of fireflies. There was another place where you can try on traditional Korean dress "hanboks", another area for making traditional Korean crafts, stages for performances, and tons of other stuff.

My first destination was signing up Romeo and I for a firefly experience that night. Basically they bus you out to the countryside and you follow a path and get to see fireflies in nature. It was 5,000W each, but what's the point of going to a Firefly Festival if you can't see any fireflies?! I reserved spots for us at 10pm (the last time slot not sold out) and was given more recommended things to do from another kind information lady. I walked to a photo-opportunity laden area rife with statues and picture-perfect signs/scenery.

After helping a couple take some photos, they offered to do the same for me, so I actually did get some pictures! Not a ton, but that's okay. There was some interesting stuff. Around 4pm, I wandered over to a small stage to watch some kind of traditional Korean performance (of what variety, I wasn't sure). I got a plush front row seat on the corner of the stage and waited. A few minutes later an emcee came out and started trying to hype up the crowd. It didn't work too well, but he tried. After a second, I guess he spotted me and turned to face me. He said something to the crowd in Korean and I heard "waygook!" ("foreigner!") and started to blush and laugh. He then gives the crowd a big exaggerated wink and what I assume translates to "watch this!" and says a big "HELLO!" to me. Dying laughing I managed to shout my best "hello!" back. I was a bit embarrassed after that but it was great.

I guess the performance ended up being some musical performance - at least the first 10 minutes. It may have been something else later, but I left. There was a bboy dance contest in another area of the festival and I wanted to check that out. I am so glad I did! When I first walked in, I was a bit nervous because there were so many people (well, compared to the rest of the festival, it was quite concentrated!) I found a single seat on the far right side, and watched a few performances. They were really good!! After attempting to video and having heads continually block my shot, I decided there had to be an individual seat somewhere closer to the stage. I stood up and saw half of the front row in the center was empty! So, why not?!

I walked up and asked some teenage girls on the second row if the seats were taken. They didn't really understand but an old man on the front row motioned me to sit down with a genial smile, so I smiled and sat myself down in the middle of 5 empty seats, with no one blocking my view :)

I had a BLAST watching the competition for about an hour and a half. Romeo was still en route, and I was enjoying watching some really talented Koreans. I took some pictures and a few videos, but once I got to the front row I was enjoying myself so much I pretty much forgot to take any video or photos. Oops! Around 5 I stepped out to go meet Romeo but he texted me that his bus was still quite a ways away, so I went back and I'm so glad I did because right when I sat back down the BEST act came on! They were called Soul Hunterz and they were by far the best group. A few of them were not too bad looking either. I said as much to the teenage girls behind my seats and they died laughing and one brave girl managed to say "sexy guy!" Then it was my turn to laugh hysterically.

Finally around 5:40, I left and went to the bus terminal to meet Romeo. My phone was so close to dying but I knew I needed to meet him around then. He ended up being even later than he expected, so I walked around the festival area that was right across from the bus terminal. I saw 3 Native American (yes, Native American) guys playing some Native American music, completely decked out in full head dresses and clothes. It was kind of funny to see that in Korea. The Koreans were entranced!

I also walked through the building that housed the traditional crafts and saw kids participating in tons of  awesome-looking activities. There was cloth-making on looms, pottery making, firing glass, making wooden boxes (not sure the interest there but it was packed) and some other things. It was really neat!

Finally around 6:30 Romeo's bus rolled into town and we took his bike and backpack to the motel to drop off. By that time I was in quite desperate need for some dinner and recuperation so we headed back to my amiga at the information desk for a recommendation. We ended up at a big tent in the festival making our own BBQ.

There were booths selling "foreign" foods which were totally incorrect.
Basically two minutes after we sat down to start our meal, an older Korean gentleman came over to our table and started talking to Romeo. Turns out he was a county-council member and he supplied us with soju and beer. He poured Romeo a shot of soju and poured me some beer. When I offered my glass to the soju in his hand and smiled sweetly, indicating he should pour some in my beer, he got the biggest smile and laughed, making a thumbs up sign. We said several "konbe" ("cheers") and he gave us his card before going back to his table. I love being foreign sometimes! :)

After a yummy meal and some "somac" (1 shot soju and finish filling the glass with beer), we walked to the stream to see the "fire splashing" (according to my handy map). It was a little surreal experience. I think they basically had a couple wires stretched out across the stream and they were sparking continually. There were some fireworks but this weird fire-wire (ha!) was intriguing. I tried to take some photos but they didn't come out the best. It was pretty crowded but I enjoyed watching the spectacle.
We needed some cotton candy to watch the "fireworks"
We headed to meet the bus for our trek into the "wild" to see some fireflies. It was about 15 minutes out of the village and there was a ton of people on the bus! When we got to the area, it really was quite dark! Once we got away from the highway lights, it was nearly pitch black. I was glad Romeo brought his small flashlight so we could see our footsteps.

About 15 minutes into the "hike", we started to see the fireflies and turned off the flashlight. It was awesome. I mean, there weren't that many, but I was so happy to be there and seeing even a few. It was really beautiful to be out there, despite that we couldn't really see much. I felt amazing and so happy to be drinking in the crisp, fresh air while catching glimpses of fireflies!

We stayed around 30 minutes then headed back to the bus. I was a little nervous that we would get stuck out there since there was no real directions or instructions "be back in 30 minutes!" (well, at least that we could understand!) so I wanted to play it a little safe and get back.

When we rolled back into town, the festival itself was wrapping up for the night, but we weren't ready to call it a night! We headed to a restaurant/bar near the motel and got some fried chicken and drinks (per Korean usual). Finally, I'm not even sure what time it was, the restaurant was closing (wait, restaurants close?! I forgot... nothing seems to close in Seoul. Ever.) so we headed out.

Let me just go into a little more detail about the horrors of this motel room. When I got our mats from the owner and laid them out, I found a bug on one of the blankets. Not a silverfish or anything super gross, just a little tiny black thing. BUT, a bug. There was bathroom connected but I literally didn't even want to set foot in it. The room had a small window... which opened into the hallway where the owner took his smoke breaks. There was no A/C, no fan. We literally slept with the door wide open. (I've lived in safe Korea too long that I no longer even think twice about something like that. Or, I don't in such a quaint countryside village). Regardless, this was the most basic and uncomfortable room possible. I actually didn't mind the floor mats that much... but my shower the next morning was ridiculous. It was traditional Korean style (no separate shower, just a shower head next to the sink), but the shower head didn't really fit on the wall so when I tried to hook it on the wall it literally sprayed the ENTIRE bathroom (toilet paper, toilet seat, my toiletries bag, everything). I couldn't help but laugh, but it was actually super uncomfortable. I didn't even feel clean after showering... *shiver*

Well, when I woke up in the morning around 7am (why? no idea. there wasn't any window to wake me up so I'm amazed), I headed to the bus station immediately to make sure I could get a ticket back to Seoul in time to meet my small group before church. I felt like a pro by this time, figuring out the best route home. I got our tickets and went back to the motel to get my stuff together and ready to go.

The journey home wasn't that interesting but I guess I reflected on what an amazing trip it had been. I felt so accomplished and like a real adventurer. I actually felt similar to when I traveled to China alone. Really really successful and independent! It really lit a spark in me that I want to take advantage of the time left and see more of Korea! Bonus, on the bus home I told Romeo about geocaching randomly and he loves the idea so now I have a buddy to go geocaching with!!!!! I've been meaning to go but winter and such, haven't gotten around to it. But we are inspired to travel and bike (his thing, but I want to give it a go) and geocache! I'm super excited about the adventures to be had in the coming weeks. :)

Also, I was truly amazed with rural Korea. I always said I wouldn't like to work in the provinces, and maybe that is true, but I definitely have a new appreciation for the country and people outside of the city. Every single person I encountered was so genuine and kind. I loved being out of the city and embracing all the amazing people and experiences that the rest of Korea can offer :)

Finally after small group and church I got home around 7-something Sunday night. I was absolutely exhausted from a busy and exhilarating weekend!! It was a top-3 weekend for sure, and I can't wait to have many more adventures this summer :)

I will add pictures to this tomorrow night, but I am too tired to work on it at this moment...

1 comment:

  1. Superlicious!! Thanks very much; love the photos - you are a pro at writing and sharing your experiences. Always look forward to the Best Blog Ever.


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