Cheonggyecheon Stream & Lantern Festival

I know it’s been a while since I made a post. A lot has been going on. But before I catch you all up to speed on the details of my life (Which are probably way more accessible on Facebook than here. I’ve realized I had dozens of photos I haven’t posted from the past and experiences I’ve nearly forgotten to write about. One of them being the magnificent Cheonggyecheon Stream.

There are streams and parks used as recreational areas all over Korea but none are as complicated as the Cheonggyecheon Stream. I can’t tell you how many koreas I’ve talked to who have very mixed opinions about this body of water. Cheonggyecheon is little more than a 5.8 km creek flowing west to east through downtown Seoul emptying into a small river that eventually dumps into the Han River (the most important body of water that splits the city of Seoul in half.)

Cheonggyecheon during the first half of the 20th century. (image from Wikipedia).

Originally the stream wasn’t known for much aside from being a general eyesore. Immediately following the Korean war the city of Seoul was poor and the destitute huddled around this river building shanty towns and bathing and defecating in the stream. Like with most problems at the time Korea didn’t really have the infrastructural or the cash to deal with the situation so they simply paved over the river with concrete.

It stayed that way for about 20 years until the then Seoul mayor (now current president of Korea) Lee myung Bok, initiated a project to remove the highway that was built over it and restore the river to it’s former glory. It was a good idea in concept, make a covered up river a public park to increase property values, bring back some greenery to the city (Which had grown so fast it was little more than a concrete cube), and show off some respect for history and culture. But there were some problems.  First a highway had been built over a river so it was a costly project that over 386 billion won (approximately US$ 281 million). Second, after digging up the river they discovered it had dried up completely requiring 120,000 tons of water were to be pumped in daily from the Han River, and this caused safety hazards from decrepit concrete structures. Third the job was rushed, rather than following the natural course of the Han River a new course was set for it, one that disregarded natural patterns, completely discrediting any possible ecological motivations into purely financial ones.

Whatever the reason or motivation the Cheonggyecheon Stream is here today and it is one of the most beautiful public areas in the city. The stream is sunken into the streets of the city accessible from almost any street corner along it’s path. A quick flight of stairs down and you’re walking past a man-made yet still beautiful body of rushing water, complete with tile mosaics, fountains and stages. These pictures were taken in the middle of the summer and I was surprised to see children bathing in the half a foot deep stream nearly stark naked.

 

It was the prefect place to spend a lazy sunday afternoon after a hard night partying. As I walked along I was fortunate enough to see a musician playing a pan flute on the other side of the stream. I took a seat among his audience of passers by and listened as the sounds echoed off the street overpass above and mingled with the calming rush of water on the polished rocks between us. I would like to say it seemed as if he had just been called to play and coincidentally happened to have a flute in his pocket but with such an elaborate set up you can tell he made a habit of coming here to play. Overly prepared street performers seem common in Korea. I remember the other day I saw a Mexican mariachi band playing in the subway (Speaking Spanish no doubt).

 

But this wouldn’t be a very exciting post if I only talked about something as simple as a public space maybe 100 meters wide with a river running through it. No, that’s because I had actually been to Cheonggyecheon Stream long before this leisurely trip, although I had not realized it because I came at night.

It seems as if the lantern festival is happening every other day. I have been to this festival at least three times on three separate occasions. And although at the thought of it I tire some, I am sure in about three years when it has completely slipped my mind I will wish I had cherished it more fondly.

Although I said it was a lantern festival and the above picture gives you images of a dozen tiny lanterns floating in the water (which is accurate as that’s what is there) the main attractions are lanterns only in name. They are more so elaborate stationary towering parade floats draped with paper that glow far more brilliantly in the night.

 

Some tell stories, others just recount the history of this interesting nation, but all are amazing to look upon. The hour is growing late so I’ll just close with a few photos I took of the actual floats and what I can remember about them below.

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite picture from the whole night. A guard watching a gate. I believe he is guarding the gates of gyeongbok palace but then again I can’t be sure.

Thanks to a traditionally Buddhist background I get to see different interpretations of the Chinease zodiac animals all the time. Front and center is the tiger wielding some kind of pole-arm. If I get a chance I’ll take more pictures of the others.

These are a few soldiers on horse back.

Korean music is as beautiful as it is…complex. It’s mostly percussion based as you can tell by the wide assortment of drums in this group of musicians.

This is a Korean wedding parade. Traditional Korean weddings are on the decline and that’s mostly due to the elaborate nature of the whole affair. The event has lots of music and traditional dances. The national colors of blue, red and yellow are always on prominent display.

This is the bride of our wedding. Imagine going down the altar in one of those.

This is based on a really good Korean Folk tale called  Simchong, the blind man’s daughter. As the name and the picture implies it involves a beautiful woman a poor beautiful girl the sea and a giant lotus blossom. (If you’d like to read it go here: http://www.sejongsociety.org/korean_theme/korean_folk_tales/shim_chong.html /If you’re lazy and you’d like to see an animation explaining it go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SguUo0eF3iE&feature=related)

This is another Korean folk tale called The ogres magic clubs. As with most stories with ogres it involves a bit of trickery funny none the less. (Go here to read it and find a much better picture of the same lantern:  http://miconthehill.blog.com/2011/11/23/ogres-magic-clubs-korean-folk-tales/)

This lantern is telling of the story of how the Sun and the Moon came to be. This is interesting because it has many elements of  the Western Big Bad Wolf Story. (To read go here: http://myths.e2bn.org/mythsandlegends/userstory11587-how-the-sun-and-the-moon-came-to-be.html / and again if you’re lazy here’s another video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDNn2_JYRCc)

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12 Responses to Cheonggyecheon Stream & Lantern Festival

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    Really interesting post. If I ever get to visit S.K., I’ll be sure to visit. Great to read your post again.

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