One of the first things you’ll learn about me can be summarised in this very simple mathematical equation: Me + butterflies = heaven! Let me explain: in Polish ‘motyl’ means butterfly and my surname is Motylska. So, I have a justified, healthy obsession with all things butterfly.
I travelled close to a thousand kilometers and paid KRW8,000 (R560/$80) in a single day to experience what the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival had to offer. When I arrived in Hampyeong I realised that the festival, now in its 12th year, was possibly started in an attempt to spark some new life into this quaint, agricultural village. The festival is quite possibly what sustains the town. The aim of the festival is to promote eco-tourism across South Korea. The festival seemed like a very big deal to the locals. In 2009 it attracted around 500,000 visitors – a number they were extremely proud of. I walked around Hampyeong for an hour or so and only saw two traffic lights. The traffic conductor, who took his role very seriously, would not allow the pedestrians to cross the road on a red light despite the fact that there were not (m)any cars around.
In Seoul I can already get by fairly easily on a handful of Korean phrases interspersed with the odd English word. But in Hampyeong, which is quite remote, my Korean – even though it was accompanied by my energetic hand gestures and miming, wild pointing and exaggerated facial expressions – didn’t bring me much luck. For the first time while being in South Korea I experienced the reality of being lost in a realm of incomprehensibility. Seoul seems to have cultivated its own dialect, which doesn’t seem to be understood by the southerners, or perhaps they just wanted to have a bit of fun with me.
The highlight of the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival was frolicking in the canola fields and walking among the butterflies, which were in an outdoor tented garden. I could hear by their laughs that children enjoyed the amusement park rides. One of my most memorable moments was being called onto stage after watching a traditional Korean dance and being asked to mimic the moves. Little did they know that I am a dancing pro! I really exceeded their expectations of how well a foreigner can pull off some traditional Korean dancing moves, because they gave me a 500 gram bag of rice for my efforts. Aaahhh, you’ve got to love Koreans and the practical nature of their gifts or prizes: at least it’ll feed me for the next few weeks.