Monday, February 13, 2006

Jeju island Fire Festival

I love fire!!!

Last night I returned home from Jeju island extremely exhausted but very pleased with my experience on the "Hawaii of Korea". Why an island in winter? Besides the obvious, "why not?", my primary reason for taking a flight to an island for a mere 2-day weekend was none other than FIRE. It was the 10th annual Jeju Fire Festival and I have a pact with myself to learn how to throw fire before I'm 30 years old. (My fascination with fire-spinning started at a party thrown by an environmental college--yes, kegs and professors present-- in a valley in Asheville, North Carolina where Cedar Rose and her fire were the entertainment for the evening...but that's another story.)

We arrived early in the afternoon on Saturday to the charged festival atmosphere with a Korean twist: numerous barbecues going on, lots of soju drinking, Korean games, cactus candy, and delicious cinnamon tea, among other things. As the sun went down everyone converged around the main stage where my friend and I happened to stumble into VIP seats for Nanta followed by a traditional Korean dance performance. Although the shows were good, the biggest bonus for our upgraded seats came when we were handed bamboo torches as a massive fireworks show got underway. We then followed in a mob of other torch-carriers as we made our way to several constructions of wood and hay at the bottom of a huge hill and proceeded to light them on fire, which started the entire hill on fire.

For the next 30 minutes it was the closest I've ever come to feeling like I was in the middle of a war. The burning hill resembling a volcano, the fireworks, the burning ashes flying in my face and torn flags all contributed to this effect. All being played out with dramatic music blaring from speakers that seemed to be correlated with strong gusts of wind. (I realize the music wasn't very representative of a real war but in my mind it was, since my only experience with battle zones has been from movies.) It was something unlike anything I've ever seen or ever expected to see. A pyromaniacs dream turned reality. My brother would have gone crazy.

As the fires blazed on I spotted some kids throwing around metal cans on wire filled with hot ashes. I ran over, filled a can with ashes and was so excited at my first chance at fire-spinning I failed to notice the kid walking straight through my path of destruction. Fortunately, he ended up perfectly fine but there's nothing quite like a scalding hot can of hot ashes to the back though... I've said it before and I'll say it again, I AM SUCH A KLUTZ!!! I felt really horrible and vow to never forget the first rule of fire-spinning ever again. Besides my bad start, it was the most fun I've had with fire in a long time. My first fire-spinning was also documented by a Jeju news crew that thankfully started filming after "the incident".

My overall opinion of the weekend: Korean festivals rock.

The hill before...

...and after