Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Little Mermaid and an International Fireworks Festival.

Ever since I began researching life in Korea (about a year ago), I knew I wanted to be a part of the annual International Fireworks Festival in Busan. How lucky was I that this year I got the chance to dive into the chaos of a human wall, eat chicken on the beach, and experience the best fireworks display I have ever seen at this festival.

Currently, I write this entry from the comfort of my bed, where I have been all day. I like to think of this weekend as one really long day, because I had to spend all of Sunday sleeping and eating pizza to recover.

The day started early with a bus ride out of Ulsan. The train into Busan is supposedly prettier (and less insane than the public bus) but keep in mind that there were about 2 million people filtering into Busan that day to watch the fireworks, so everything we did this weekend was kind of the long way. After our bus ride, the subway was the next stop. The fireworks show was at Gwangli Beach, but we decided to spend a portion of the afternoon in Haeundae first; this beach has a warm place in our hearts from last month when we visited there on vacation.

Hello, carnival games, Fuzzy Navel burritos, and the chilled October tide.

I'll be honest, from here on out things got a little harried. We started walking towards the beach with the assumption that we could catch a taxi at any point. Wrong. Because of all the chaos, virtually every taxi was in use. We searched for an alternate route to the festival for about 30 minutes before (luckily) catching a cab and heading towards Gwangli.

The festival itself was incredible. Here's what the Koreans have on us Westerners:

1. The organization was astounding and very well thought-out. The beach was mapped out so that an aisle of space was clear for people to enter and exit. And when the beach got too full (because it really really did), volunteers stamped our hands so we could enter and exit the beach.

By this point, the only thing keeping people from entering the beach was a human wall of police officers. I have never stood behind a human chain of government officials, let alone been allowed to pass through a wall of them! It felt pretty amazing.

2. Nobody left trash on the beach. And for 2-3 million people, that's miraculous. Could it have been the trash bags they gave us for free to use? I think so. But all things considered, this feat is pretty unheard of. Maybe the US government should start spending public funds on trash bags and less on the oil-using machines it takes to clean up loose garbage.

Oh wait. This is not a political blog. My bad.

3. Instead of selling french fries or cotton candy, vendors sold kim bap, rice cakes, and brightly-colored fuzzy blankets. Again, it's always healthier to be in Korea.

4. There are no open-container laws in Korea. Just sayin'.

5. Lastly, the fireworks themselves. There's not really too much to say; I don't know if any words I use could possibly describe the beauty of this show. Because this was an international display, the music timed with the show was from around the world. In the 50 minute display, there was a section of 3-4 songs from the US. By far, this one got us the most excited:

Singing 'Under the Sea' in a crowd of Koreans was almost too much fun... especially when I realized just how few of us there actually were who could sing along.

It's interesting to identify so wholly with something, like a song, and feel like nobody relates. The Little Mermaid is a defining part of my childhood (uh... Halloween costume circa 1992!), and I was in such a daze of ecstasy that I was shocked to see strangers staring curiously at me. I may be over-simplifying, but it's a prime example of how I see my life: your home is inside of you. It's unique to you. And you can be in a crowd of strangers and still be at home. But you may never understand what home is to someone else, and just how much it means to them. Even if they're 8 inches away, screaming in your ear.

I won't go into too much detail about the rest of our night, because it involved staying out until the sun rose, sleeping in a doorway, and getting soaked to the bone. I just try to remember that anything can happen here, and it usually does.

What great stories you can have when you take the opportunity to make them.
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