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Japanese Apricot Blossoms by Seomjin River

Travelling for five hours by train or car South from Seoul, one arrives at a Japanese apricot village at Gurye-gu in South Jeolla Province by Seomjin River. The place, known as the Japanese apricot hill, was cultivated over a period of thirty-six years by a woman called Hong Ssang-ri. Every year in March, before the winter cold is gone, the mountains are covered with the white, pink and blue Japanese apricot blossoms.

From the past, Korean writers and artists impressed by this flower blooming from mid winter wrote numerous poems and drew paintings of the Japanese apricot. Hong added a pragmatic beauty to the flower's traditional praise in literature by introducing the fruit as a health product and making it edible as a drink or food.

Another impressive local feature is the sight of a house's front yard calmly protected by a beautiful stone wall and filled with neat arrays of earthenware pots. At any other place in Korea the pots would contain fermented goods such as soya sauce, chilly paste or bean paste. At Gurye-gu, however, they are pots of green Japanese apricot wine, "maesilju," and concentrated Japanese Apricot juice.

Many tourists visit Gurye to see the Japanese apricot blossoms but unfortunately the flowers shed by the end of March. Yet, there is no reason for disappointment. The tourists can enjoy a beautiful drive by Seomjin River which is said to be the most beautiful and best preserved (i..e. clean) river in Korea.

And for the bravest visitors, one can go down to the riverbank and catch small shell fish called Jecheob, for which the area is well-known.

The flowers are at their best on Hong's Chung Mesil (green Japanese Apricot) Farm during the last ten days of March and urban residents from Seoul, Suwon, Cheonan and Daejeon visiting for a day trip scurry to take photographs of the flowers and of themselves in midst the blossoms.

By Seomjin River, which runs across South Jeolla and South Gyeongsang provinces, there is a well-known market place, Hwagye jangteo where two totem poles, "jangseung"s, greet the tourists by the entrance.

(Written by Jinna Park, Photos by Namkyu Lee)


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