“Neon heart, day-glow eyes, The city lit by fireflies” – or so goes that U2 song, whose melody has always brought a vivid image of bustling, modern and mostly Western cities in front my eyes. After the first night spent in Korea, which also happened to be the New Year’s Eve, my earlier associations with the well-lit and well-known skylines of New York and Chicago were quickly replaced with the bright shine of Seoul. The cold, penetrating lights of its tall office buildings, accommodating aura of apartments (that are home to close to 10M of the city’s population!) and, finally, the omnipresent neon glow of commercial areas almost put to shame the good old Times Square itself! In Korea “light” has defined modernity- but is it only an extension of that Western-born consumerism and economic progress? Or has it always been traditionally celebrated for some symbolic meaning?
The search for an answer to that question is exactly what brought me to Boseong Light Festival (보성빛축제), an event held every year (between December and January) in Boseong- a small town on the Southern coast of the Korean Peninsula. My initial research indicated that the 8h-long bus-train-train-taxi trip across the country, despite a killer jet-lag and a tequila-induced post-NYE hangover, might be worth it after all.
When Koreans think of Boseong, they think of green tea. In fact, some sources indicate that green tea plantations in that area are responsible for 40% of the entire Korea’s green tea production. The terraces of the plantation were created during Japanese occupation in 1939 and were brought back to use in 1957, when the famous Daehan Green Tree Plantation was opened.
Undoubtedly, the vast picturesque landscapes formed by rolling green fields provide an amazing view in the summer… but I wondered about the off-season, winter feel of the plantations. Is the Boseong Light Festival merely a well-designed endeavor to address the seasonality of tourism in the area? When my friend and I arrived at Boseong Rail Station, it was already a late evening. A fifteen minute taxi ride through the meanders of dark local streets got me thinking about some exit scenarios, just in case we get stranded by the driver in that middle of nowhere, deep in snow, without wi-fi… until I saw the first lights on the horizon. That view was so beautiful.
The Boseong Light festival was a feast for the eyes for sure. It also gave me that warm fuzzy feeling deep inside, as we found comfort and safety in the otherwise unknown and distant town. “Celebrating the light” is such a simple idea and yet, it can bring so many people together, as proven by the number of mysterious (for a non-Korean speaker at least) wish cards hanging on the sides of the walk:
Korea is not just about the vibrant neon flash of its metropolises, but the warm and soothing glow of local sites and traditional events like the one in Boseong. Highly recommend it- especially for couples, who might enjoy the romantic ambiance 🙂
The post was originally published here.