It’s cherry blossom season here in Korea, and all over Seoul dark and unassuming trees have coyly emerged, dressed in thousands of miniature, wondrous petals. The blossoms are spring’s gift for enduring the long, bitter winter. People in Korea don’t go quite as crazy for the blossom as their Japanese neighbours do, but there are still plenty of great places to see the flowers, and some big crowds too.
Yeouido, the island river in the middle of Seoul, is the top blossom spot, with a very long path lined thick with the trees, whose blossoms form a gentle canopy. The island’s cherry blossom festival spills out into the neighbouring Han River Park, and draws immense crowds. Picture the calm corridors of blossoming cherry trees, then fill the spaces around the trunks with families, picnics, kite-flying, food vendors – barbequed squid is a favourite – and of course, enormous SLR cameras with gigantic, phallic lenses. Old men in suits sit on blankets drinking soju or makgeolli, girls in cutesy outfits pose and pout for photos under the trees, children continually lose helium balloons and people carry miniature dogs in their arms, decked out with died fur and bow-tie collars. People-watching is just as good as blossom-gazing, and much more baffling.
The cherry blossoms are a painter’s dream, unfurling in layers of pale pink and white clouds; buds of softness and light that stud the dark boughs of the cherry trees before bursting out into the world. But the blossoms are also the delight of the poet and the philosopher. Their beauty is a fragile, fleeting thing, and the flowers quickly wither and fall into the air in cascades of petals. Koreans call this effect 꽃비 , meaning ‘flower rain,’ a succinct, poetic expression that captures the image perfectly. Already the blossoms are beginning to thin in the trees, in a few days they will all be gone. The cherry blossoms are all the more precious because they do not last, forcing us to stop and admire them now, for tomorrow they will not be. It’s nature at its most vulnerable and artful, but also her most resilient – the blossoms will come again in their proper time, just as vibrant and delicate as before.