Monday, May 20, 2013

보성녹차축제 - Boseong Green Tea Festival

Last Saturday was 518 (오일팔/oh-il-pal), the anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement that occurred on May 18th, 1980. I thought it would be interesting to see what was going on in the liberal and historically anti-American city of Gwangju on that day, but I didn't get a chance to visit the memorial or see any exhibits or events. Instead, I hopped on a bus headed south to Boseong (보성) for the penultimate day of the famous Green Tea Festival -- another spontaneous decision. It took me away from the big city, deep into the rural landscape that dominates most of Southern Jeolla Province. Way out there, I highly doubted anyone regularly crossed paths with foreigners, let alone harbored xenophobic attitudes toward them. In fact, Boseong is a tiny town that apparently heavily relies on tourism and graciously welcomes everyone to see its famous green tea fields.
보성녹차축제. The Boseong Green Tea Festival, nestled in the hills in rural South Jeolla Province.
Although I had been planning to meet up with fellow Fulbrighters at the festival, my phone ran out of batteries (one downside to spontaneous overnight trips: you never think about the small things, like charging electronics or bringing a toothbrush), so we hadn't communicated a time or place to meet. When I hopped off the bus at the festival grounds, I realized that I would just have to keep my eyes peeled for a group of foreign women. As I blend into a Korean crowd quite easily, I knew they'd have trouble if they were the ones looking for me.

Still, I took the time to take in the sights, and there was lots to see. The main attraction was a hillside covered in green tea shrubs and dotted with people stooping over to pick the leaves. The plants looked a bit worse for wear, since the festival had been going on for some time and tens of thousands of visitors must have trodden the hillside already. But it was still something I'd never seen before. I myself took a short walk along the hill and snapped some photos, but I didn't pick any leaves -- I was still trying to spot my friends.
Festival participants prepare tea leaves for brewing.
Other attractions included long rows of stalls selling all sorts of green tea (녹차/nokcha) products, which are, unsurprisingly, not limited to tea. There was green tea candy, green tea lotions, green tea ice cream, special ceramic and wooden teapots and teacups, and the plants themselves. In addition to this, there was the usual festival fare of food, cultural knickknacks, and anything hawkable, really.

After a bit of time wandering around alone, I made my way up a different hill to the performance area of the festival, where a large stage had been set up and many people were watching a troupe of 아줌마 dance. Here, I discovered more food stalls, some green energy and environmentalism exhibitions, and a large pavilion where people who had picked their own tea leaves could help cook, roll, and dry them to prepare them for actual brewing. And it was near this area where I finally found my Fulbright friends!

Together, we visited the tea museum, shopped for gifts, and just chatted and caught up. It was quite pleasant, overall, and I was indeed much happier to be experiencing the festival with friends instead of alone. After I'd been at the festival for about three hours, we took the bus back to Boseong, and then to Suncheon, where we ate a light dinner, and then I bused back to Masan, and then I bused back to Changwon. I was dead tired after all that travel, and I may or may not be absolutely sick of buses after this weekend! Okay, that's enough griping. Here are more photos!
An adorable diorama in the tea museum depicting tea taste testers at work.
Another exhibit in the tea museum. ₩1,000 entry for a relaxing visual walk through the history of tea in Korea, with limited English.
Alanna tries a sample of green tea. I ended up buying a small package of 세작 tea, which is made with relatively young leaves, for my homestay family. As it turns out, host mother prefers the variety that I bought! Score!
Hilary, Alanna, Amy, Payal, and me in front of the green tea fields (녹차밭).
P.S. Gwangju to Boseong is 1h30m (₩8,400); Boseong to the famous green tea fields is 20 minutes (₩1,100); then the return trip; Boseong to Suncheon is 1 hour (₩5,800); Suncheon to Masan is 1h40m (₩9,000); Masan to Changwon is 30 minutes (₩1,100). That's a lot of freakin' buses.

For any readers who need information about bus timetables and ticket prices, because that information is often hard to find on Korean websites, here's Suncheon Intercity Bus Terminal, Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, and Gwangju Combined Bus Terminal. Even Koreans take photos of timetables and ticket prices at the terminals themselves because the websites are so utterly impossible to navigate.

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