Monday, April 6, 2009

purple rain - the abrupt arrival of spring

well, the flowers are in bloom!
yup, it’s 벚꼿 season (‘beotgot’ – cherry blossoms). the streets are filling with people and flower petals which fall like a soft, pale-pink rain. the scene is enough to make anyone start daydreaming.

koreans get pretty excited over these blossoms, although not quite as much as the japanese who pretty much take the bloom as an excuse to party anywhere outside, at any time of day (as they rightly should). for both countries, the sakura (as it’s called in japan) has a magical and even almost mystical effect on people. just as dreamers have gazed at the stars for inspiration, so also do asian artists and writers feel compelled to dwell on the cherry blossoms’ natural beauty.

here are some cherry blossom 和歌 – わか (‘waka’ – japanese verse poetry; this particular kind is called ‘tanka’ which has a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern):

Hisa kata no
hikari nodokeki
haru no hi ni
shizu gokoro naku
hana no chiru ran

in this shimmering spring day,
ah, with ever anxious heart
the blossoms are falling

Yo no naka ni
taete sakura no
nakari seba
haru no kokoro wa
nodo kekara mashi

were the cherry tree totally absent from this world,
how carefree would the heart be in spring-time

Iro mo ka mo
onaji mukashi ni
sakura me do
toshi furu hito zo
aratamari keru

the radiance of cherry blossoms, their scent,
ever fresh with every passing year –
so man grows old, eternally

i think japanese poets found symbolism in the ephemerality of the cherry blossom. the trees bloom majestically, breathtakingly, and yet the petals fall almost as soon as they unfurl. they gently fall to the ground or get swept away by the slightest breeze, representing the transient nature of all life and the unstable nature of the human heart whose troubling emotions bloom and vanish. for these poets, the cherry blossoms are not cheering but rather saddening and disquieting.

there are several great places to see the cherry blossoms in seoul, but the most flocked to place is yeouido. this is where the벚꼿 festival is held every year. i refrained from visiting this place on the weekend due to all of the foreboding hysteria i encountered in the newspaper and the warnings of my students. apparently, any attempt to visit there on the weekend would be about as relaxing as riding the subway during rush hour or visiting haeundae beach in the summer.

instead, i went to 경희대학교 (‘kyeonghee university’) which is just a 5 minute walk from my school and has an incredibly beautiful campus. compared to kyeonghee, oedae (my school) looks like a community college, despite being ranked on korea’s top ten list (which kyeonghee is NOT). but i don't begrudge them because i can go there anytime i want and pretend like it is my campus. ^_______^

well, on to the pics (you can click on them to get a larger blow-up)

[this is on the road up to kyeonghee which is on the side of a large hill/small mountain above my school]

[the always impressive and domineering cathedral]

[although not as famous as yeouido, people come from all over the place to visit kyeonghee at this time of year too - you can see people taking pictures everywhere]
[getting a shot (almost) void of people was pretty hard]

[the school finally turned on the fountain which just sits there unused during the rest of the year - students camped out around here all day]

[i sat on the steps for a while, reading, until it became too noisy upon which i moved over the the grass where all the couples were laying around. it was a warm day and i took a pleasant little nap in the sun]
[it was a popular place to have an impromptu drinking picnic - koreans really like drinking outside (almost always with soju) and will do so whenever they get a chance; it really doesn't matter where - even a parking lot will do in a pinch]

[one last parting shot as i headed back to teach my evening class]

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