I’d been waiting impatiently since I arrived in Korea but they came and then they went.
I’ve never been to a place that becomes so brown during winter. After the colour explosion of autumnal trees, colour drained away from the South Jelloa mountains, the trees and the earth. Then the rice paddies flattened. At Suncheon Bay, the reeds looked like toasted almond flakes, crisped up as if the hot summer had over baked them except that it wasn’t the sun but the winter dryness that pulled the green life out of them. Winter was a time to retreat indoors. Then mid March colour slowly began to seep through the veins in trees creating tiny buds but it was the noise that I noticed returning first. In the morning, birds singing. Then it was the light. In the morning, light began to come through the blinds earlier. It is only when the light and colour comes that you realize how dark things have been. Within a space of a week, trees went from bare to bearing delicate pink and white flowers. It was the plum blossom that came first and then the mother of spring, the cherry blossom.
I was excited about cherry blossom season before I even got to Korea. I’ve always loved to see cherry blossom arrive. As a winter hater, cherry blossom is nature’s town crier shouting that SPRING is here. A couple of years ago, a visit to Kew Gardens, England, coincided with their blossom season. A little heat was beginning to warm up the English sun as I sat among the cherry litter in the Japanese garden. Never did I think I would be enjoying a blossom season in Korea. Like its more noted cherry lover, Japan, the blossom season in Korea is held in high esteem.
There are festivals galore in South Korea, particularly in spring. I’ve been to an azalea festival were there were more people than azaleas, there was also the Gurye Sansuyu, spring flower festival but to enjoy some cherry action, I was invited for a kimbab picnic in the Hadong region and a drive on cherry blosssom road where wait for it…yes, there was a cherry blossom festival. There is a festival for everything in South Korea but… why not? The Hwagae festival is along the Simni Cherry Blossom Road, a 4-km road along Hwagae Valley, also known as ‘wedding path’ or ‘marriage road’. It’s a popular spot for couples as it’s believed that if lovers stroll down this road, hand in hand then they will have a long and happy marriage. Cherry Blossom Road follows the path of Seomjin River as it passes through Jirisan National Park and also feeds green tea plantations. A river in a valley, bordered by mountains with green tea terracing the lower slopes and a snowfall of blossom petals. Would you like me to paint a better picture?
People are picnicking, people are taking pictures, ajummas are sitting chatting underneath the trees. A train of kindergarten kids hold hands while trying to catch petals with their free hands. They are followed by couples in matching clothes holding hands.
As we leave, Catherine swerves to miss a lady on the road. Despite being a Wednesday morning, there’s a crowd heading down to the food market. Gina shouts out the window at the ambling ajumma. Inside the car she shouts, “ajumma, crazy!” We hit the giggles. Our bellies our full until our next meal, the sky is blue and none of us want to face a classroom of students who do not want to learn English. We just want to blossom.