01 May 2008

discovering korea #1: jinhae naval port festival

the following post is the transcript from my new kbs world radio show, discovering korea. i know it's corny, but c'mon, it's for korean radio!

When I moved to Korea last year, I thought the best way to get to know my new home was to simply get out and explore it. It didn’t take me long to discover that Korea is full of remarkable places.

The city of Jinhae, is one such special place, and it’s located on a mountainous, stretch of Korea’s southeastern coastline.

one of very few streets that weren't crowded with cherry blossom admirers (photo by eric).

But the town is best known as home to the world’s largest number of flowering cherry trees, or Beot-kkot Namu (벚꽃 나무), as they’re called in Korean. For only a few short weeks each Spring, an estimated 340-thousand trees burst into a virtual sea of pale-pink blossoms, and I wanted to see them. Fortunately, for the past 46 years, the hospitable people of Jinhae have shared their local treasure with the world as hosts of the Jinhae Gunhangjae (군항제), or Naval Port Festival.

The festival began in 1952, when a statue of Korea’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Yi Sun Shin (이순신), was erected in the city’s center. Since 1963, the festival has been held annually to honor him.

keeping korea safe.

But, these days, it’s the spectacular cherry trees that attract over 1 million visitors, like me, each year. This species of flowering cherry is thought to be native to Korea, and over 1,000 of them line the road from Changwon city to Jinhae, alone. But nothing can prepare you for the dramatic scene once the port city comes fully into view. Suddenly, you’ve come upon a valley blanketed in pink.

the very pretty "romance walk" located near the jinhae train station.

My favorite spot in Jinhae is the picturesque Yeojwa Stream and promenade, which are located near the main train station. A popular place for couples, made famous by the Korean drama “Romance”, the small stream is bordered by yellow Canola flowers and a one-and-a-half kilometer boardwalk that’s covered by a canopy of cherry blossoms. It’s simply a picture-perfect backdrop.

After enjoying the promenade, I walked to a large stage featuring live music and stage performances. The area around the stage was packed with tourists, but to help us safely navigate the crowded streets, cute and enthusiastic local students directed traffic while bowing and thanking visitors for coming.

during the festival, visitors gain access to the naval academy's beautiful campus. nice view, eh? (photo by eric).

Koreans know Jinhae as the home to the country’s Naval Academy, but visitors can access the campus and Naval Museum only during the festival. Although I wanted to board the full-size replica of Korea’s famous, 16th-Century turtle-ships or its contemporary, a four thousand five hundred-ton destroyer, the long lines told me that I wasn’t alone!

a replica of admiral lee sun shin's iron-clad turtle ships that defeated the japanese navy during the imjin wars of the late 16th century.

But then again, after all of this sightseeing, I was hungry! And what’s a festival without food? Fortunately, everything from chicken skewers and delicious donuts to whole coconuts were available … I almost tried some beondaegi (번데기), or boiled silkworm larvae, but then I backed out! But thanks to a tip from a fellow visitor, I enjoyed my personal favorite, bibimbap, but this time, the rice and vegetable dish was made with Jinhae’s famous Saesongi mushrooms.

Now, had I eaten a bit less, I could have also visited Jinhae’s Yongchu Waterfall and Seungheung Temple, but, I’ll leave that for another time, since I’m definitely coming back next year.

For more information, Jinhae has a great English-language website.

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