Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Navy Blues

On Sunday a friend invited to The 45th Jinhae Cherry-Blossom Festival, Jinhae being a city about 40 miles away from Busan. Beyond that I had few preconceived ideas as to what to expect, but I didn't think I'd be spending most of the day at the ROK (Republic of Korea) Naval Academy, who were having their annual open day as well.

The more modern ships were off-limits but the ROK Navy have a full-size replica of a turtle ship, which the public could board and look around. The numbers were tightly controlled for obvious reasons, but we only had to queue for around five minutes.

The insides were functional if a little cramped, and one felt the pressure to move around quickly, but despite this my wife persuaded a Korean naval cadet who was hanging on to a small rudder (there seemed to be a bigger one elsewhere) to let me pose with it, even if I think I would have preferred to mind my own business. There may have been more to see at the base beyond some miscellaneous military hardware and an aircraft sat outside one of the buildings, but instead we hurried off towards the centre of Jinhae to see another event which transpired to be the Jinhae International Military Band Festival 2007.

This is where things began to go downhill. We arrived about ten minutes before the event was due to begin - too late to sit in the stands, so we were directed to join a four-row deep group of people squatted on the floor by the edge of the central square. Koreans are not tall but neither am I so the view was often obscured by heads, particularly when the inevitable escalatory kneeling up began. The first event was a
Samulnori (사물놀이) performance. This is a style of korean drumming and dancing which has its roots in Korean agricultural tradition - people would perform samulnori to ensure and to celebrate good harvests.

I managed to take some video, but I missed the best part when some of the performers cartwheeled around and danced in a way that reminded me of whirling dervishes.

We decided to move to another area a little further back where people were stood, on the principle that at least we would be able to see then. It would have been a great idea if the organisers hadn't continued to let people in, resulting in an ever larger and increasingly agitated sea of humanity all desperate to see something and presumably failing. Meanwhile, people moved through the crowd to get from place to place, and I discovered Korean Crowd Etiquette - which involves using your elbows to viciously shove people out of the way as if you'd just spotted the last piece of kimchi on Earth, without so much as a sorry. I'm not joking when I say that this is apparently the done thing and nobody apart from me seems to get angry about it. Still, anyone who cared to listen would have got free advanced colloquial English lessons - my Meniere's Disease is bad enough some days without getting heavily jostled around in a crowd. Anyway, we were being pushed around, we couldn't see, it started to rain, and a brass band started playing, which were all good reasons to give up and head for the famed cherry-blossom road on a nearby mountain called Anmingogae (안민고개).

Except we couldn't find it. We'd come with a friend and her car's GPS didn't recognise the location, which left us flailing around the central roads of Jinhae until she finally and dramatically beached the car off the road in order to look at the overly simplistic Jinhae tourist map. I'd like to say that I think she realised she'd just arrived at a rather unconventional parking position outside a small police cabin (the police car parked outside might have been a give-away) but I think it came as a surprise to her when she noticed it. Unperterbed, she went inside, asked directions, and we ended up getting a police escort up to where the mountain road began. Thank you Jinhae Police.

While there was a fair amount of cherry-blossom on the road up the mountain, I felt like I'd seen so much of it around Jinhae, Namhae and Busan already that it was losing its aesthetic impact. In any case, my camera's battery died and the spare refused to work properly for some unknown reason so all I got was one shot of the mountain from a distance and a shot of Jinhae the top of it. Overall, the festival was interesting but like many things in life I guess it needs a bit more planning to get the most out of it.

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