If you are thinking that the photo above was taken shortly before midnight on December 31st, 2012, as jubilant throngs gathered to celebrate the New Year, you are wrong.
Oh, the throngs were celebrating the New Year - you got that part right.
But it wasn't at midnight, or any time before it. It was, in fact, at about 6:30am on New Year's Day.
On top of a mountain.
In the snow.
What we were doing was participating in a 'Sunrise Festival,' a tradition in Korea in which people gather early on New Year's morning to view the first sunrise of the New Year. This practice is supposed to bring good luck in the year to come and may or may not also grant a wish to the onlooker. 'Sunrise Festivals' are held all over Korea - particularly on the East Coast - for just that purpose, with thousands of people traveling to the easternmost spot they can reach on the peninsula to be able to greet the sunrise on New Year's Day.
Sunrise-greeters who aren't keen on traveling to the East coast are not completely out of luck, though: most large cities host their own sunrise festivals, usually on mountains or hills. There are several of these events in Seoul, but the closest was being held on top of Namsan (South Mountain), home of the N Seoul Tower, and a short subway ride away from our home.
We had debated half-heartedly about going downtown on New Year's Eve to Bosingak to hear the bell rung the traditional 33 times in its pavilion and see the release of hundreds of Roman Candles - but the idea of jostling with thousands of drunk-ish people in the bitter (-18C) cold, not being able to see what was going on, and then competing with those selfsame people in the crush for public transportation afterwards didn't appeal to us. (There was a certain irony in the fact that really, all we ended up doing was jostling with many of those very same drunk-ish people in the bitter cold at 6am instead of midnight, but we tried not to think about that.)
While surfing around the internet looking through the various New Year's offerings, I ran across several mentions of these festivals, and decided that this would be it. This would be the way we would start off 2013! (It goes without saying that Sons#1 and #2, who are normal, healthy teenagers, would have nothing to do with this scheme. It should also probably be pointed out that this was another one of my 'Wouldn't it be fun to...' ideas which MrL went along with without ever once questioning my decision-making matrix or my sanity. Not in the blinding snow, the freezing cold, or our later treacherous descent off the mountain. The man is a saint.)
This is how it came to pass that, at 5:45am on New Year's Day, MrL and I were emerging from our apartment building into a driving snowstorm. (Note: it had not occurred to either of us to check the weather forecast or do more than glance out the windows at the darkened city. Had we done so, we might have abandoned the entire undertaking and returned to bed.)
Since we were already up, dressed for the weather (it's all about layers, darlings) and outside, we decided to go ahead with our plan, taking the subway a few stops and catching a bus that would take us most of the way up the mountain. The bus had a standing-room-only crowd, and the driver cheerily yelled comments over his shoulder to us (no idea what he was saying: he seemed pleasant) as he navigated slowly and carefully up the slick mountain road in the blinding snow, occasionally pulling off his stocking cap to wipe the condensation off the interior of his windshield in the humid bus - apparently as a sort of a boost to his defroster.
We emerged about 500 meters away from the tower plaza, and began toiling up the slick hill in the dark toward the glowing tower.
|Heading for the lights and flat ground.|
In the outdoor plaza, a number of tents were erected where sunrise-seekers were greeted with a free cup of hot coffee or tea.
|Never turn down a free cup of coffee at 6am in the snow.|
The plaza was slowly filling up with people, with the focal point being the pagoda, where the Master of Ceremonies (as far as we could tell: he had the microphone, and all the lights and cameras seemed to be pointing at him) was chatting up the crowd. People were milling around the plaza in the falling snow - some dressed for a night out on the town, some carrying umbrellas, some of them sporting a full complement of technical outerwear, including crampons and hiking poles. We
MrL and I - realizing that we had a good 45 minutes to
After we'd used the facilities (clean, large, and no lines, for those of you who might be interested in doing this in future,) we took a quick 'selfie' before heading back out into the wind and the snow to see what the sunrise situation looked like.
The plaza had filled up even more while we were inside, and the crowd was laughing and cheering. We had read that sunrise was supposed to take place at 7:47 AM, but the sky was full of clouds, snow, and haze at that point, and we had no idea if there was some sort of a countdown to sunrise, or if people just generally acknowledged that the sun had, indeed, risen somewhere, and considered it a done deal.
At that point, we decided to climb up onto the observation deck, since that seemed like the best place to see a sunrise. There was a small crowd up there, taking pictures of the area below us that would probably have contained a sunrise if we could have seen it. Yes, the snow had obscured the sky so much that, had MrL(geek that he is) not had his trusty compass app on his phone, we wouldn't even have known in which direction to be looking for the sun.
After a certain amount of time spent in fruitless milling about with other confused people and recognizing that it was probable the sun had already risen, we decided to mark the occasion, such as it was, with another 'selfie' taken on the observation deck beneath the Tower:
|Happy Sunrise 2013 - we think. |
|Heading back down after 'sunrise.'|
By the time we got down to the bottom and back to civilization, we were cold, wet, tired, and badly in need of coffee. We had gotten up in the dark of a winter's morning, made our way through a snowstorm, nearly broken our necks more than once, and splashed through piles of grey slush On top of that, we weren't sure exactly when the sun had risen, since we hadn't been able to see it. On paper, it doesn't sound like much of a way to ring in a new year.
But would we do it again? Absolutely.
Happy New Year.