Chungju is the prettiest ugly city I know. Writ large, it's hideous: grimy blocks of identical sky-rise apartments, wires strung every direction, litter strewn across the streets. Even the air's dingy these days, a mix of river fog and Chinese grit. The beauty is in the details, like the jewel-like effect of neon signs on a rainy night.
Right now is when Chungju looks it's best. For a brief time each spring, the city explodes in flowers.
Most famous are the cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossoms are often seen as a symbol of renewal and the ephemeral nature of life. They're beautiful--like fairytale happy-ending beautiful. Cherry trees line the roads and river walks in Chungju, and schools take trips to see them blooming at the nearby dam. Many towns hold cherry blossom festivals in April, and newspapers run pictures of couples walking hand-in-hand through the snow of falling petals.
Cherry blossoms bring out the poetry in Korean culture. Traditionally, the flowers symbolize the briefness and beauty of life, but they also reflect its complexity. In memory, they are melancholy; in sight, they are a joy.
In honor of cherry blossom season, I'll leave you with my favorite Korean song of the moment: Cherry Blossom Ending by Busker Busker.