Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Umi no hanabi

I gave up an evening's trading Friday in favour of attending the Busan Fireworks Festival - South Korea's biggest - and something the city authorities seem determined to turn into an international tourist event.

While Busan may be Korea's second city, there's a feeling that it's got some way to go as far as the development of cultural events are concerned, as the Fireworks Festival seems to be one of the relatively few events of note in the annual city calendar. This of course meant that the desire of local people to attend was particularly high, making the two subway trains we took more like cattle trucks. Clearly the subway authorities had become concerned enough by th
e number of people to announce that changing trains in Seomyeon would not be possible. It didn't put my Korean companions off - nor the other locals who dashed from the first train to the second in a worrying race.

The initial impression of chaos was not to last though. A huge number of police at Gwangalli Beach ensured good crowd control and everyone who arrived early enough was able to take a seat on the beach with relative ease - though we had to wait two hours for the fireworks to begin.

Gwangan Bridge - which arcs across the bay in an improbable fashion to apparently link points A and B on the mainland in the longest way possible (it's currently Korea's longest bridge) - was lit up spectacularly, although most of the fireworks were launched from the shore rather than the bridge itself. We'd been promised a multi-media fireworks display, though predictably this translated into meaning fireworks accompanied by loud music. It sort of worked though. If we go next year, I think we'll take cushions for the beach though; two-and-a-half hours sat on sand and pebbles with nothing more than a thin ground-mat for protection is not to be recommended.

Despite the heavy police numbers the post-festival experience was worrying. We were staying with friends at a beach-side apartment in the very fashionable Haeundae Beach area, but when we left Gwangalli Beach to walk towards Haeundae we found ourselves pushing against a flood of humanity surging in the opposite direction. The small group of us intent on going the other way eventually succeeded, but there's a serious accident there waiting to happen one year. Now I know how salmon feel.

I read that 600,000 people watched the festival last year, and the city authorities expected over one million this year, but our Korean companions told us that this year actually seemed quieter, in which case I can only imagine the horrors of the previous event. It certainly felt like we fought our way through tens of thousands of people walking towards Haeundae Beach, and the crowd didn't really tail off until we were almost at our destination - a one hour walk.

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