I took this photo yesterday while on the bus across Han-gang river. I’d met up with a group of the friends and after buying some fried chicken. We were on our way to watch some fireworks in Seoul. Yesterday was Gaecheonjeol, translated as “Opening of Heaven”, marking the day when Hwanung, a mythical deity, was said to descend to Earth to live with humanity. It’s a long fable, but the important piece is he is said to have fathered Dangun, the founder of Korea according to legend of the Gojeon Period. So, in other words, yesterday was “Korean Foundation Day”, marked each year by a fireworks show along the Han River, “international” because teams across the world participate along with a Korean team. This year, America and Philippines started the show with Korea last. The Korean show stood out with the most impressive fireworks, including a section where a major bridge crossing the river was illuminated from underneath with a waterfall of fireworks, creating a golden-yellow stream like, flowing glow. Yet, the Korean segment was also strange for me as an American viewer. It lacked the non-stop flow and momentum of an American show. Rather it proceeded at a plodding pace with gaps in between, at times waiting 30 seconds to a minute before another firework was shot off…At times the fireworks would shoot in one direction of the river, then in another. I was reminded at times of a battlefield, where shots are fired, with intermissions in between. It had somewhat of a theatrical element to me.
All in all, it was a fun night with new friends, eating chicken and sharing beer in the cold evening air. It was cold enough that a cashmere sweater and hoodie didn’t keep me warm and an older Korean man walked amongst the crowd selling blankets. On the way home, we moved slowly across Mapo bridge, packed like sardines in a hoard of Seoullites heading home for the night. As I walked with my friend, we read the Korean phrases printed across the side of the bridge, lit up at night by panels of light. The phrases along the hand rail say things like “People love me”, “How about we eat some noodles?”, “I understand you”, etc, made in an effort by the government to discourage suicides, as the bridge is infamous for. It wasn’t necessarily a somber walk, as we laughed at some of the funny phrases and chatted on our way back to Sinchon, closing the night with a shared coffee and a few beers.