April 22, 2012
Uiseong Garlic (Yes, Garlic!) International Kite Festival
Guest Update by Jim Martin

This has been a week of firsts. My first time in Korea, first time in a Love Hotel, first time writing a guest update… and first time spending the night in O’Hare Airport after missing a connection. So between the excitement and the jet lag, the writing may wander a bit.

Oh look, there goes a squirrel!

This was the second Uiseong Garlic International Kite Festival, this year much bigger, with more than 120 fliers from over 20 countries. The Uiseong area is famous for garlic and apples, and for the flowering Sansuyu trees, cherry cousins with distinctive yellow flowers. There are also tracks of dinosaurs, and monuments and temples from antiquity. Something for everybody!

Welcome to Korea

Mike Agner, Al Sparling and I arrived at Incheon International Airport late at night, and were met by festival volunteers and a contingent of kiters from SE Asia who had been patiently waiting for us to arrive. After a flurry of introductions and card-exchanging, we were whisked to the waiting big pink bus (with obligatory neon-lit interior) for the 5 hour trip to Uiseong. Driving through the night on winding mountain roads, after 30 hours in airports and planes, while watching Ultimate Fighting Championship on a TV at the front of the bus, all while sipping some rice wine picked up at a truck-stop along the way – that was one of those “life experiences” you hear about.

We arrived in Uiseong, and checked into the local love hotel. David talked about these in last year’s update: they are places where lovers seeking a bit of privacy can get away from it all. What David missed is that, for those of us traveling without a spouse, a love hotel has one huge bonus: there is only one bed per room. When you get to be an old guy like me, traveling with old guys, all of us with our own foibles and snoring skills, a private room is a wonderful thing. I know for most festivals this would be a budget problem, but I hereby heartily endorse giving us seasoned kite fliers (read: Old Guys) our own room – we’ll love you for it!

Where did the squirrel go?

Our first full day in Korea was spent touring: a traditional Korean village, the Go-Un Temple (free vegetarian lunch, afterwards you wash your own plates), flower viewing along the Sansuyu Trail and royal tomb mounds.

Opening Ceremony Opening Ceremony Opening Ceremony

Our first day on the kite field involved the buses being directed onto the wrong road, and stuck atop a levee with no easy way to turn around. While officials and the drivers debated what to do, most of the kiters disembussed and walked across the dry river bed back to the kite field. The first order of business was a ceremony to summon wind and ward off bad weather. I was honored to be selected by our host, Mr. Kitai Rhee, to represent the fliers in this ceremony, and joined the priests and officials in traditional Korean garb in offering rice wine and otherwise ceremonially assuring good weather. (I may have done something slightly wrong: we did not have any bad weather, but the wind did not turn up as expected!)

Korea Kites Korea Kites Korea Kites

The flying field was one of the biggest I have been on, well supplied with large and small sandbags for anchors. Sadly, the wind was of the “blow two minutes, shift 180 degrees, then stop.” Still, in the moments when flying was possible, the sky looked good. And the New Zealand contingent quickly commandeered some helium balloons to hold a kite or two in the sky no matter what the wind did.

Korea Kites Korea Kites Korea Kites

To me, the heart of the festival was meeting new friends, visiting with old friends, and getting a small sample of the wonderful culture and hospitality of our hosts and the people of Korea. The wind sometimes lets us down, the friendships are always there!

Also, there goes the squirrel again!

Jim Martin carried the Gomberg logo to Uiseong in April. Sounds like he came home with lots of stories. We’re pleased he shared some of them in this Guest Update.

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