What can I say about Hanhwa’s fireworks show courtesy of Seoul’s International Fireworks Festival at the 63 Building on the Han river? Not much else besides that it was utterly fantastic.
I had first seen the advert for Seoul’s International Fireworks Festival 2016 a few weeks before in September. The fireworks were being held on October 8th and I was excited to see what Korea had to offer, having come from a small city outside of Chicago. I have never actually gotten to see a large show in Chi-town, so I figured this could be a good fix for that. Seoul has 10 million people. Their fireworks had to be good!
Fireworks Festival Schedule and Activities
Either way, it wasn’t just Seoul showing off that night. Japan was slated to go first, then Spain, and then the show would culminate with South Korea. As I told my students that I was planning on attending, each would tell me a series of things all amounting to the same idea: “It is too crowded there!” They would advise me to watch from further away, at some other location more inland or down the river from the actual show. Now, I understand their sentiment; and coming from them (a people who have much different expectations for personal space), it seemed like a dire warning. But I didn’t let that hamper my style. The one piece of advice I did follow was to come early. Very early. The fireworks show started at 8pm, but we arrived on the scene at 2pm.
You know, for good measure.
But seriously, as is Korea’s fashion, they had other events going on over the course of the day in their “fireworks village”; there were games, booths where you could win little prizes just for participating (company advertising), concert stages, and lots of food. Danny and I looked around for a nice little spot where we figured we could enjoy the fireworks show and have some space, because even at 2pm, the area was filling with people.
The Beautiful 63 Building, Overlooking Hangang Park
That’s Hanhwa’s 63 Building behind us, one of the more beautiful buildings of Seoul. For the next few hours, we lounged in the sun in the relatively open area around us (because Koreans don’t like the sunlight, they hadn’t settled our area yet). After we explored the area, we listened to podcasts and music, we talked, and we waited for our friends to arrive. One thing that was nice was the music playing nearby at one of the concert stages. It alternated genres and singers throughout the afternoon and evening, and it was just nice to chill out and get a free concert.
By the point our friends arrived, Hangang Park was packed to the brim and finding food was more a chore than we expected. The food place Danny and I had scouted earlier was out of food and we had to go with a different one. Either way, chicken is chicken and we enjoyed it, even if it was a bit lukewarm.
Japan’s and Spain’s International Fireworks Shows
Finally, it was time for the fireworks to begin. And right when they did… we realized they were being set off in a different location than what we originally thought. The bridge was in the way! We had to dart around to find a new location. We ended up watching Japan’s show standing in a massive crowd of people. Each show (besides Korea’s) was 25 minutes long. Japan’s was beautiful and their finale was incredible. For Spain’s, we dashed down the street again but didn’t find that great of a view. Spain’s included more Western music but the fireworks themselves weren’t as exciting as Japan’s.
We continued running around to find a better spot for Korea’s show beginning in only a few minutes. That was when we noticed a mass exodus of people from one area of the park closer to the river. What’s this? What’s this?? We decided to run in that direction, and as we did, we noticed other Koreans moving a small barrier to stream up the side of a hill.
Suffice it to say, we decided to adopt the Korean mentality of go wherever the hell you please.
The Best I’ve Seen: Seoul’s Fireworks Show
We got to the top of the hill and before us was a closed off area that seemed as if it was marked out for the VIP crowd. And the river and fireworks show was right before us. A giant screen with a story played as the fireworks began, and at each interlude, the fireworks would begin, some with a laser light show included, but always to a great variety of songs, from musicals (Phantom of the Opera) to Disney (Mulan) to pop music (Bruno Mars) and on to K-pop. It was an incredible show. We huddled close to avoid the chill that had descended in the late evening under a never-too-pink blanket Danny had bought from a street vendor.
We had a great time. The show felt like it had multiple finales.
When it was finally over, we found our way back home. Let me tell you, in that mass of humanity, it was difficult. Subway stations had police officers standing guard so people couldn’t hurt others as they shove their way down. This forced everyone to disperse to more decentralized areas. We walked for maybe 3 km with thousands of people pushing in on us. It was exciting and the energy was great. Seeing hundreds take over a city street or intersection like a hungry beast is an awing sight. Honestly, it felt like we were some group of rabid refugees fleeing an apocalyptic zombie virus. Fortunately, we arrived at a subway that wasn’t crowded and made our way home safely.
Though I plan on seeing fireworks shows in other countries too, I’m not sure I’ll ever see a show as spectacular again.