This is my favorite time of year in Korea. It’s the season of cherry blossoms, beautiful weather, street food, and glowing lanterns. For the third year in a row, we walked to the Sincheon River park near our apartment and celebrated Buddha’s birthday at one of Daegu’s many lantern festivals.
Like two old people, we made our way to the festival before night set in, hoping to avoid the crowds, eat some street food, and return home at a reasonable hour. It was the last day of the festival and the celebratory atmosphere felt a bit more muted than the previous few days, when we could hear singing and see bright lights from the balcony of our apartment.
After stuffing our faces with freshly made gimbap, we crossed a wobbly, make-shift bridge over which hundreds of colorful lanterns arched majestically against the sky. I have walked across this bridge three years in a row now, and it has never failed to take my breath away. As if on cue, I took out my camera phone and snapped a few photos.
“Aren’t you just taking the same photos that you take every year?” Sly asked.
“Yup. And I’m taking even more,” I said.
On the other side of the bridge, Sly purchased a bucket of cold, fried chicken doused in hot sauce and mayo, and we sat on the edge of the river watching the reflections of the lanterns and the changing sky flicker over the top of the gentle stream. It was hard to believe that this was our third time here, that we had been here two years before. Every year, the lantern festival marked the passing of our time in Korea, and I thought to myself there would soon come a time when we would no longer mark our years with this festival, in this town, on this river. How many more festivals did we have left?
I knew the answer to the question was too few, and as I sat on the river with Sly, I looked up at our apartment, at the mountains behind it, at the city lights off in the distance, and at the arch of candle-like lanterns nearby, and I wanted to squeeze every last second out of that moment. I wanted to remember everything, and despite the impossibility, I wanted to hold on to that exact time and space and breath of air between us and that purple-golden sunset forever.
Instead, I took more photos.