Monday, 13 August 2012

Hwacheon Tomato Festival

The Hwacheon Tomato Festival has been held in the small village of Sachang for ten years now. The highlight of the event is a huge tomato medal hunt in which five golden rings are hidden amongst thousands of tomatoes that are sprawled out on the road. Everybody dives into the tomatoey, watery mess, throws tomatoes and searches for the rings. I couldn’t quite decipher what the prize was, something worth getting covered in tomatoes for, I suppose.

The festival set itself up on Friday, two large balloons floating above the road highlighted where the festival was. Nathanael and I walked down to the festival on Friday afternoon. At this time there wasn’t much going on, people looked like they were still setting things up. The sun was shining and it was interesting checking out all of the stalls that were on offer, we also watched a small parade that I suppose marked the opening of the festival.

We watched the real opening from the roof of our apartment block. We were merrily  playing rummy when we heard what sounded like bombs going off outside, it turns out it was fireworks and we darted up to the roof to watch the display, which was pretty impressive considering it was all about tomatoes.

Saturday was the main event. The town was heaving with people; I’ve never seen so many people here, so many cars on the road. We were meeting two Korean high school students from Deanna’s’ school. They run the English club there and wanted to hang out with us during the festival. It was good to have some guides. Joshua (one of the students) told us that he had been to the festival every year. He was ready to dive into the tomatos, but Nathanael and I opted for observation. Two giant lorries offloaded the tomatoes onto a red plastic sheet that was sprawled out across the road. Tractors and people with spades proceeded to sprawl all of the tomatoes out across the road. Then it was time to go. Everyone leapt into the tomatoey mess with much excitement, a fire engine started blasting everybody with water and I couldn’t help but think about how many delicious tomatoes had gone to waste. Soon after, the smell hit me. Gosh, it was a repugnant smell and everyone was gleefully covered in tomatoes from head to toe.

It was strange seeing an influx of foreigners in town; I think I’ve only seen one other foreigner in our town the whole year so seeing hundreds of them was strange. They were doing what foreigners in Korea usually do; being loud, obnoxious, and taking photographs of each other making outlandish facial expressions. I guess it’s kind of hypocritical to complain about that, they were just having fun. After the main event we strolled down to the stage set up at the head of the road and watched some Korean party games before a huge spaghetti cook off.

Elsewhere at the festival there were overpriced food stalls, several ‘Olympic’ events, like tomato soccer and tomato archery, its probably best not to ask about these events as they weren’t anything special. There were also several stalls selling tomato based products. I’m not sure how much money the festival bought to the town but I’m sure it bought a lot to the county. The food stalls weren’t anything special but we used them to eat most of our food over the weekend, but if you want to sample good Korean food then festivals probably aren’t the best places.

There has been a heat-wave here over the first week of vacation something that ended on Sunday with a day full of rain, which brought the festival to a close on Sunday afternoon. Outside of attending the tomato festival I’ve done lots of cleaning and packing things up ready to move out. I’ve cooked a lot and played a lot of cards with Nathanael. I went to Chuncheon on Monday to get my haircut and do some shopping; mostly I’ve just been chilling out and awaiting Natalie’s arrival. I’m happy to say that she’ll be arriving this Friday. There’s so much to look forward to, the next few months are going to be something special…

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