I am wishing you Happy New Year 2008 from downtown Seoul, surrounded by tens of thousands of Koreans and Foreigners all singing, dancing and letting off hundreds of fireworks while literally ringing in the New Year!
But how did I get here?!
The weather forecast for last night was clear with a 100% chance of freezing your figures off, so Steve and I decided to dress warmly.
We wandered down to our local subway stop (Sinchon); Steve with his ice cream and me with my celon tea. Soon, we are zipping along the rail lines towards Enljir0-3, six stops on Line 3. We use our $1 subway ticket to exit the gate and climb the stairs to the street (there are no escalators). Steve buys a glowstick hat from one of the hundreds of street vendors.
We are early so we decide to eat something. I suggest sumgyeopsal (barbecued pork), so we stop in at a small restaurant off the main street. The warmth of the food and the warmth of the celebratory mood make us giddy and we decide to get 100 people to say "Happy New Year" to us. A New Year Challenge!
Everyone we pass (at this point - 10pm - the crowds are getting thicker), we wish them a Happy New Year, and if they respond likewise, we can count it. After 10 minutes, we were at 24 "Happy New Years." Couples, children, students, families, store owners, police officers - No One was safe! As we approach Jongno Tower, we are at 76 "Happy New Years" and it is becoming impossible to move without touching anyone. We watch traditional Korean dancers drum and dance and twirl their ribbon attached to their hats. Three Korean children wish US a Happy New Year, so Steve gives them his glowstick hat.
The big laser green "11:16" projected onto an adjacent building (which also has a gigantic neon Christmas tree) ticks forward a minute. The crowds press forward toward the stage and temple, as celebrity hosts talk about the festivities planned after the countdown. I cannot understand anything. The temple holds a gargantuan bell that is rung 33 times at midnight to mark the transition into a new year - the number 33 symbolizes luck in Korean.
Soon, over 50,000 people are crowded into the closed-down intersection. We meet Vince, an American who just stumbled on this "little" celebration. 11:32. Politicians talk on the stage. Fireworks (roman candles - illegal this year for the first time!) begin to shoot off from within the crowd. Police are unable to stop them.
11:45. An amazing Korean drum show begins the official countdown. A Korean Backstreet Boys-like band performs. The Koreans around me go crazy. Another Pussycat Dolls-like band plays. Excitement builds. The fireworks are going off almost continuously. I brush soot out of one eye.
11:58. The celebrity announcers come back on the stage and build up the crowd. 11:59. I can no longer hear them over the fireworks. Everyone is grinning, excited for the moment. 11:59:30. The giant video screens scan the crowds; shy Korean girls recoil at their 10m high faces. 11:59:50. The Countdown begins. In Korean and English, at the same time.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5........4....... 3.................. 2............................ 1.............................
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!
12:00:00! The giant Bosingak bell is struck as the fireworks erupt in glorious wonder and everyone yells and hugs and kisses and jumps up and down and the celebrities begin singing Auld Lang Sign in Korean and everyone joins in except the foreigners who really only know the first two lines of it in English anyway so we just lalala the rest...
Then more rock and pop and opera and lounge singers take the stage as the crowd sings along. Fireworks continue to fly. Someone hands us 6 roman candles, so we release them into the spotlit sky. We meet three very drunk Indians and an awesome group of Korean guys, one of which - Sean - lived in Surrey, Vancouver for 4 years. Yeah, Surrey.
An hour later, the crowd begins to thin and the police move in like a centipede, arms linked. Street cleaners sweep around our feet, but the fireworks continue. Vice decides to make a move towards the stage and we never see him again. Steve and I enjoy the slowing festivities and confirm that we have definitely surpassed our 100 "Happy New Years."
We begin to walk down the now almost abandoned main street and meet another American, Tom, who suggests hitting the bars of downtown Seoul. So we join him and some other Americans, Canadians and Koreans and celebrate the New Year of 2008 in Style!
(As a footnote to this post, we received a message from JiSoo, one of our Korean friends. Apperently, our "Happy New Year" Challenge was caught on film and we were shown three times across Korea on the news networks! I will try to find a link to it in another post! Hahaha!)