By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik, Editors Kim Hyung-dae, Paul Kim
A total of 18 members of the Seoul Diplomatic Corps (SDC), including ambassadors, senior diplomats, defense & military attache and their family members from 11 countries of the world, had a rare opportunity to experience the Korean culture and literature, based on the famous novel of Lee Hyo-seok named When the Buckwheat Blossoms Bloom. The ambassadors and the senior diplomats visited the Pyeongchang County in a one-day tour and attended the 2019 Pyeongchang Hyoseok Culture Festival in Pyeongchang on Sept. 9, 2019.
The visiting envoys and other members of the SDC included Ambassadors Chaim Choshen of Israel, Difie Agyarko Kusi of Ghana, Virgilio Paredes Trapero of Honduras, Wylbur C. Simuusa of Zambia, Abdul Hakim Atarud of Afghanistan, and Ambassador Kemelova Dinara of Kyrgyz Republic. There also were Mrs. Tran Thi Lan Hinh (spouse of the ambassador of Viet Nam) and the madams and children of other senior diplomats, including Col. And Mrs. Mario Gutierrex Martinez of Mexican Army.
Mayor Han Wang-ki of Pyeongchang County personally accommodated the distinguished members of the SDC and hosted a luncheon at a traditional Korean restaurant, where he presented each participating member of the SDC with a Plaque of Citation in appreciation of their participation in the Pyeongchang Buckwheat Festival of 2019. The Plaque of Citation in part read:
“This Citation is presented to the Honoree above mentioned in recognition of the unreserved interest and effort made in the promotion of relations, friendship and cooperation between Korea and the country represented by the recipient by attending the 2019 Pyeongchang Buckwheat Festival on September 9, 2019.
“Attendance at the Festival by the Honoree will greatly contribute to the enhancement of the understanding of the Korean literature and culture by the countries diplomatically represented in Korea.”
Greeting the visiting Ambassadors and other senior diplomats at the luncheon reception, Mayor Han Wang-ki said:
“Let me express my utmost gratitude for your participation and I would like to welcome the distinguished guests and ladies.
“Pyeongchang was the host city of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, famous for its four-season leisure tourism. I hope this would become a step forward to increased international relationship and cooperation between Pyeongchang and all the different countries of the world.”
In response to the welcoming remarks of Mayor Han, Ambassador Choshen of Israel, on behalf of the ambassadors and other members of the SDC, stated: “It is our privilege to be able to come here at the Pyongchang Hyoseok Culture Festival. As the representing diplomats, it is essential for us to be experiencing the traditional cultures to fully understand the country in relation to a more developed relationship between Korea and our countries.”
During the festival, various booths featured with local and traditional goods were put on display alongside the roads attracting many visitors from home and abroad.
Even with a rainfall during the day, quite a number of visitors were in sight enjoying the exhibits and various local products on display and an unforgettable memory.
This year’s tour of Pyeongchang was the second time that The Korea Post media had organized and all of those from the SDC participating in the tour made a common consent on their satisfaction of their visit.
“Even though I have been to Pyeongchang once before, this is my first time to truly see what real Pyeongchang is, and as a representative of Israel, I would like to experience more of these hidden cultural heritages during my stay,” said Ambassador Choshen of Israel who headed the visiting group of the ambassadors and other senior diplomats on the basis of seniority of accreditation to Korea.
While having a short interview with Ambassador Choshen, Mrs. Tran Thi Lan Hinh, spouse of the ambassador of Vietnam added, “I would like to come again during the night time to see what Novelist Lee Hyoseok had seen. I am sure it would be marvelous.”
The Pyeongchang Hyoseok Cultural Festival features famed novelist Lee Hyo-seok’s novel entitled When the Buckwheat Blossoms Bloom and is a representative festival of Korea as well as of the Pyeongchang County. This festival, which is held in September every year when the buckwheat blossoms begin to bloom, is widely known as many tourists come to see the beautiful buckwheat fields with blossoms in full bloom.
The Hyoseok Culture Festival is held around the Hyoseok Culture Village and it is a festival to enjoy the exhibits at the Lee Hyo-seok Literature Hall of ‘When the Buckwheat Blossoms Bloom’ and the surroundings. The buckwheat blossoms are grown by the town residents, and there are various programs on the theme of literature.
The buckwheat blossom fields surrounding the literature hall are beautiful as if ‘they were covered with white salt’ as seen in the novel.
The Hyoseok Culture Village that is the setting of the novel houses the literature hall and the home of Lee Hyo-seok, which are visited by many people from all parts of the world as well as from within Korea.
There are various events held during the festival such as poetry contests, night of literature, and literature debates, and there also are a number of other experience-based programs with nature at the buckwheat flower fields. In addition, at the traditional food village, there are various foods using the specialties of Pyeongchang such as potatoes, corn, raw trout, and pyogo mushroom--as well as a wide variety of food made with buckwheat.
The buckwheat flower fields at night have a different look. During the festival period, there are events of sending off lit lanterns at the buckwheat blossom fields. If the visitors wish to feel the romance of an autumn night in the countryside, Pyeongchang is seen as one of the best choices.
There are movies on the topic of When the Buckwheat Blossoms Bloom. And one of them was starred by famed actors and actresses of Korea. One of them is to the following effect:
The story begins with three peddlers, namely Heo (Park No-sik) who hawks fabric, Jo (Kim Hee-gab) who sells paper, and Yun (Heo Jang-gang) who peddles medicine. Heo gets into an altercation with another, younger man, Dong-i (Lee Soon-jae), who he accuses of cutting in on his business. Unable to let the matter drop, Heo starts arguing with Dong-i again at an inn at which point he departs and leaves the old men to it. Heading back on the road, Heo entertains his friends with a familiar story – the one about his night in the buckwheat fields with his one true love.
Flashing back almost 20 years, the peddlers are all young men and only Jo is already married with a pregnant wife (Do Geum-bong) he takes with him on the road.
In the marketplace one day, Heo catches sight of Bun-i (Kim Ji-mi), a noblewoman fallen on hard times whose father apparently plans to sell her to pay for his gambling debts. Crestfallen, Heo goes back to his business but catches sight of Bun-i once again and “enjoys” a spot of not exactly consensual sex in the middle of a beautiful buckwheat field.
Heo asks Bun-i to wait for him, insisting that he will find the money to buy her from her father before he sells her to someone less nice. After trying several madcap schemes to get the requisite funds (including wrestling to win a bull), Heo sells his beloved donkey but is too late – Bun-i’s dad left in a hurry and sold her off somewhere or other but no one knows where.
Heo sets off on a five year quest to find her but remains perpetually too late, only a little way behind but always arriving just after Bun-i and the son which is presumably Heo’s have been sold on to their next “owners.”
When the Buckwheat Blooms is very much Heo’s “depressing” (as he later describes it) life story. We see Bun-i on the periphery of his flashback, but he never finds her and so does not know of all she’s suffered since they parted, nor even that she has a child.
Much of his melancholia is born of being old and of being poor. It is clear that his life has been ruined through poverty and lack of prospects – no one chooses to be a peddler (as the peddlers keep pointing out), it’s what you do when you can’t do anything else. An itinerant existence has deprived each of them of a traditional family life.
Jo had a wife in the flashback, but she and her children now live in a permanent home which Jo only rarely visits. Meanwhile Yun’s wife left him after the first time he took off for the road, unable to bear the loneliness and lack of stability involved in being a peddler’s wife. Heo had remained single because of his lack of financial stability, but meeting Bun-i gave him hope for a different kind of life. He planned to give up peddling and set up as a farmer but, of course, it was not to be.
The peddlers’ business is disrupted by the arrival of a band of fiddlers, but they haven’t just come to make merry – they’re advertising the “future”. They come to sing the virtues of the newfangled “department store” which is apparently a “foreign” invention and stocks “everything” – it has everything the market has and more, only cheaper and better quality. Dong-i, a young man, plans to give up peddling and try his luck in the gold mine, but there’s precious little hope for old men like Heo who have spent their lives living hand to mouth day by day and are now ill-equipped for anything else.
Heo is, at least, an “honest” man – he drinks but not to excess, and is frugal rather than throwing his money away on sex or gambling. Nevertheless, it’s hard to get away from his quasi-rape of Bun-i as she tries to run from him in the forest. The violence of the initial encounter undermines the romance of Heo’s ongoing tale as he hunts down his missing woman, apparently wanting to save her by buying her back from whoever it is “owns” her at the current time.
Told from Heo’s perspective, Bun-i’s feelings do not much factor in to his narrative but her life has been just as miserable as his, if not more so. A once noble lady, she suffers the humiliation of being “sold” by her father, and then sold on numerous times to other men each of whom abuse and mistreat her.
By this time she also has a young son on whose behalf she resolves to suffer, even as her various “husbands” threaten to separate them. Bun-i has no freedom or possibility of escape. She is as chained as Heo’s donkey and treated with far less kindness.
Yet it is Heo to whom the central tragedy to ascribed – he yearns, searches, is frustrated and then forced to give up on his dreams while continuing to harbor enough of a spark of hope as to prevent him from moving forward with his life. He is condemned to grow old walking in circles burdened by an unrealizable dream.
Once again shooting entirely on location, Lee aims for a more “sophisticated” aesthetic than many of his contemporaries, co-opting a shooting style much closer to European or Japanese film than is usual in ‘60s Korean cinema. A melancholy tale with an ironic, perhaps “happy” ending, Lee’s sad story of missed opportunities and ruined hopes is an oddly apt one for the post-war world but one which finds its share of cheerfulness even in abject misery.