February 27, 2013

Seoul's Symphony of Fire

Each year, the city of Seoul hosts an international fireworks competition on the banks of the Han River. Similar to Vancouver's Celebration of Light, massive crowds gather to see several countries present pyrotechnics demonstrations choreographed to a musical score. A winner is announced at the end, but by then most of the crowd has dispersed and begun making their way to the nearest subway station.

With hundreds of thousands in attendance, it is a nice chance to see a cross section of the entire society in one place. Families and oldsters arrive hours in advance, setting up their picnic mats and relaxing by the river all day. There is barely any room to manoeuvre, as the whole river bank is covered by tarps, people, and bottles of soju.

As night approaches, couples and groups arrive and stand in front of the picnic crowd so that they can enjoy unrestricted views of the fireworks bonanza. The sitters loudly complain about the standees who have arrived after them and are now blocking their much anticipated view. By and large, their gripes are ignored even after they start chanting "Sit down! Sit down!" or the Korean equivalent.

The journey to get to Yeouido, the island in the middle of the city from where the fireworks can best be viewed, is a spectacle that parallels the actual fireworks extravaganza in entertainment value.  The subway is packed tighter than a Korean male into his skinny jeans. I had to transfer from one subway line to another to get to Yeoudio, but even the transfer station was extremely congested.

I circumvented the lineup by going one extra station in the opposing direction, and then crossing back onto a train heading in the correct direction there. At the destination station, bodies poured out of the subway and slowly bubbled to the surface from its subterranean depths. Wave after wave of black haired heads poured out the exits of the station, greeted by their first fireworks of the night.


Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
- "Firework" by Katy Perry