Thousands of spectators materialized on the river banks of the Nakdong River in Busan in awe of teeming, neon yellow yuchae flowers (canola flowers). The festival, handled by the Organizing Committee for Busan Culture & Tourism Festival, ran from April 11-13.
Yuchae flowerbeds, planted on land belonging to the Daejeo Ecological Park, overflowed onto approximately 530,000 square meters. Walkways were cleared through the flowerbeds so that visitors could enter the golden labyrinth.
Traditional Korean and pop music pulsed from huge LG speakers near the center of the flower beds. Totem faces created a fence around a grave-like area where wooden birds sat on top of jagged bamboo poles. Near food tents were large flower and butterfly sculptures. Tied down balloons floated in the distance near multicolored toy windmills that lined the flower pathways closer to the river.
When I arrived, around 3 p.m., the sky was cloudless and murky, casting no highlight upon the flowerbeds, but the radiant natural color of the flowers gleamed on. At the largest road I had to cross before being enshrouded in flowers were elderly Korean soldiers, primped with ostentatious accessories, having a great time of blowing whistles for pedestrians and waving knight sticks.
During festivals, nature walks, vacation spots, etc., many Koreans come wearing multi-layered hiking gear and garb (which is an extremely popular pastime and fashion in Korea for the middle-aged), which there were many of at the River Festival. In the grassy hills that led to the river picnicked hundreds of Korean hikers in bombastic colors, couples eating cotton candy with chopsticks, and children running about.
In the afternoon must have been break time for musical performances because they shut down the music shortly after and the majority of visitors gravitated toward the food tents. I headed that way, too, with the intention of finally devouring what is known in Korea as a “potato tornado”. This sacred street food is a spiraled, fried potato on a stick usually garnished with cheese powder, salt, or barbeque sauce. In 2012, I regularly ate these during trips to Seoul and during festivals. When I arrived and cut through an apparent burial ground of birds with large poles jutting from soft mounds topped with wooden, cylinder ducks, I found the food tents in disarray. Hordes of people created stagnant lines at each location. People went in every direction with potato tornados, kabobs, icecream, tteokbokki, and actual coconuts from which sprouted bendy straws.
I made straight for the potato tornado stand and joined only to realize that the line was massive and going nowhere. I smelled a familiar odor and darted my head around, looking to find the source: beondaegi (the fried silkworm larvae). A babushka-like woman sat ten feet away from me on the curb selling the treat. Realistically I think Korea has a wonderful assortment of dishes and street foods that smell and taste always deliciously, and truthfully I have no qualms with the idea of eating insects. It’s the smell that does me in. I vacated immediately and have still not tasted my envied potato treat.
Instead, I found a free makgeolli (rice wine) taste testing tent and a line of wonderful older women who coaxed me over and sold me tteokbokki (spicy rice and fish cakes in a red sauce, eaten with toothpicks) even after I butchered a few phrases in Korean. Many younger children passed by and said “hello” and some people even asked if I’d like a picture with my girlfriend in front of the flowers.
On my way out, I walked through a series of adults who were showing their children how to fly kites and I looked back to the toy windmill area and saw the success few who had their phoenix styled kites in the air and flying.
Walking back I found an area secluded, presumably for couples, of bamboo sticks erected from the soil to make a makeshift forest. In past experience, for example my trip to the Jinju Lantern Festival in 2012, a bamboo forest usually meant romance. The Jinju forest housed paper Mache animals posed during coitus, however, I didn’t find any love-making animals at the River Festival.
A few horses pulling carriages decorated with roses could be seen thought the bamboo poles in the flowerbeds below, pulling families and playing music, as the sun decided to appear through the clouds.