I arrived at the Buddhist Cheer Rally not quite sure what the event would all entail, nor did I know what should/could do as a waguk who probably wouldn't understand a single word of what was said. I did know that it would be a colorful event and I was determined to capture it through my camera. I certainly didn't expect to be handed a metal pole containing two identical hanji paper lanterns and invited to march along in the Lotus Lantern Parade, starting from Dongguk University, through the busy streets including cultural Jongno Street, and ending up near Jogyesa Buddhist Temple.
See more photos on my Flickr page.
With a lantern in one hand, bag around across the shoulder, and a camera in the other, I marched alongside Koreans who were carrying identical lamps. Each lamp had been outfitted with a tiny light powered by a D-volt battery - a nice modern touch to a tradition dating back over a thousand years. Behind our group was one of several rowdy bands playing folk-style music and twirling the streamer attached to their hat.
With the parade going through major intersections of the metropolitan city of Seoul, traffic cops let a group of lanters through and then allowed some of the backed-up traffic cross. This gave me some precious moments to take some better photos, properly gripping the d-SLR camera with both hands in the now night sky. At some intersections, floats bearing large sculptural figurative lanterns also made out of hanji paper proceded to wiggle their way into the parade. The combination of traditional and modern, coupled with the neon lights of buildings and huge LG screen displays was quite spectacular. Crowds consisted of people of all ages and nationalities. They cheered the marchers on, many of them holding illuminated lamps of their own. As the parade neared the end, some of the lantern-bearers began to give their lamps to spectators. Some spectators, particularly expats, wiggled their way into the parade, adding their own flair.
Although I knew I missed seeing some of the spectacular floats (including one animatronic dragon that spewed flames) and scenes as seen from the sideline, I knew that marching in the parade was an exciting participatory experience that also gave me a photographic perspective not possible as a spectator. I definitely plan on returning to next year's parade, but perhaps as a spectator. Who knows?