October 12, 2013

Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival

A four hour bus ride southward from Seoul's Nambu Bus Terminal saw me arrive in Jinju. I strolled to the riverside, arriving just in time for the start of the day's lantern festivities. The Jinju Namgang Yudeong Festival is held annually on the river that cuts a swathe through the town of 350,000. Several battles took place between the Koreans and the Japanese during the Imjin War in the 1500s in the region. The 70,000 Korean lives lost in the defence of the nation are commemorated by releasing the floating lamps into the Nam river every year.

The most noticeable landmark in town is Jinjuseong, a large fortress straddling the southern side of the Namgang. With spectacular river views and live performances it was the place to be on a happening Saturday night. After enjoying the festivities late into the evening, I went in search of food and accommodation.

I followed the masses to the eMart supermarket - a bastion of hope for a hungry man. A young lady at the food court took my order and giggled surreptitiously at the same time. Exceedingly handsome men are a rare sight in Jinju. I hurriedly completed my meal, worried that no rooms would be available and that I would have to spend another night wide awake at a 24 hour Korean sauna.

Due to the fact that many Korean males live with their parents into their thirties and also have a penchant for infidelity, both single and married men have a need for seedy love motels to carry out their amorous activities. They can also be used for wholesome purposes such as catching some simple shut eye. I wandered the streets and enquired for the availability of rooms at each such love motel I happened to pass by. On my fifth attempt, I found a motel with one room remaining.

After showing me my room, the motel manager invited me for a nightcap and regaled me with his life story. Thirty years ago he had studied English in university. On this day he finally had the opportunity to use it. As English vocabulary from bygone days drifted to the tip of his tongue, he told me his life story in disjointed sentence fragments. I would guess what he was trying to say and he would confirm whether my interpretation was the correct one.

The manager told me of how as schoolchildren decades ago, he and his classmates would release a few lanterns into the river. Nowadays, he explained, the lantern festival had exploded into a well-organized but tacky extravaganza which lacked the simplicity and charm of bygone days.

While we were conversing two beauties approached the counter. They inquired as to if a room was available and he turned them away. "You very lucky." he said earnestly, "If you come 30 minutes after, then you find two ladies in your room". I agreed that that would have been an entirely unfortunate turn of events.