For the past couple of years my Korea trip has been scheduled for the beginning of May, to coincide with the Sancheong herbal medicine festival and the Jongmyo rituals. This year, I thought I’d try something different, and planned a visit to the Tongyeong International Music Festival. A trip to that port city, location for films from Yu Hyun Mok’s Pharmacist Kim’s Daughters to Hong Sang-soo’ Hahaha would provide opportunities for beautiful scenery as well as attending one of Korea’s premier contemporary music festivals (the other being the Great Mountains Music Festival in Pyeongchang, held in the sweaty summer months). The Tongyeong festival had been on my radar for a while, and when I read an account of the opening concert last year – featuring my favourite jazz singer Nah Youn Sun and much-admired composer Unsuk Chin on the stage together – I determined that I would have to turn up for it in 2012.
The festival lasts a week at the end of March. I couldn’t justify a trip to Korea and stay only in Tongyeong – timewise I can only afford to spend at most 10 days in Korea each year – so I needed to pick the most suitable concerts (based on the rather limited programme information available on the not very western-friendly website), and plan a schedule round them. I always need a couple of days in Seoul to meet friends old and new, plus whenever I can I try to get to see my friends in Sancheong County, of which I am goodwill ambassador. I also like to try to get to see my friends in Busan, which had to take a miss this year, and also put to one side through lack of time was a trip to Yeosu to check out on the preparations for the 2012 Expo. In an ideal world I would stay for three weeks or so. But unfortunately I have a day job.
So here’s how the schedule was planned.
- Friday 23 March: Arrive in Seoul (I tried Asiana for the first time). Quiet dinner in Insadong (staying, as I often do, in the Fraser Suites)
- Saturday 24 March: Seoul art galleries, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon. Slightly less quiet dinner in Daehakro.
- Sunday 25 March: Participate in an event organised by the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, which I pre-booked: a six-hour walking tour of Seoul’s palace area with Peter Bartholomew. Then catch the bus down to Tongyeong
- Monday 26, Tuesday 27 March: Sightseeing, concerts and interviews in Tongyeong.
- Wednesday 28 March: Travel to Sancheong County
- Thursday 29 March: Start hike up Jirisan to Beopgyesa
- Friday 30 March: Climb up to Chongwangbong, Jirisan’s highest peak, and descend again
- Saturday 31 March: Sightseeing in Sancheong County
- Sunday 1 April: Get bus to Seoul
- Monday 2 April: Fly to London
- Tuesday 3 April: Go to the office and pretend to work.
My plans for Sancheong were vague, apart from a desire to get to the top of Jirisan. But I knew my friends in Sancheong would make sure that my diary was soon filled up.
Apart from the fact that it poured with rain the day I wanted to get to Chonwangbong, everything went according to plan. And once again I need to thank those who helped make the visit special.
More detailed reports soon.