Connect to share and comment

Small village hosts global festival

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

HWACHEON, South Korea, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- The wish of 25,000 villagers have drawn the attention of 7 billion people worldwide.

This small South Korean mountain village has turned into a news item at home and abroad, with over 1 million people visiting a winter festival hosted here every year.

According to Hwacheon County officials on Sunday, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival was introduced on U.S. network ABC's "World News Now." It is one of the 138 news items across 34 nations on the festival.

Last year, Singaporean broadcaster News Asia had introduced the festival on its "One in a Million" program as the event was mentioned in 109 times in the news in 24 nations.

The Hwacheon County in Gangwon Province is a land of ice.

With a population of just around 25,000, the county faces North Korea just across the border in the world's only divided country.

More than 90 percent of the county are mountains and bodies of water, with its residents occupying only 3 percent. Because of its proximity to North Korea, the county is closer to a military city and therefore heavily restricted in development. A 20-minute walk is more than enough to tour the entire "downtown" area.

Soldiers on leave or families visiting the soldiers are about the only business source in the country's only county without a four-lane road.

The situation required local residents to find their own means of survival.

The neighborhood was blessed with mountains that offered beautiful scenery during summer, but it also had rivers that would freeze and turn the entire area into ice during the winter.

It was this icy winter that turned into an idea. In 2003, the residents decided to turn their snow-covered mountains, frozen rivers and "sancheoneo," or fish known to live only in the cleanest waters, into a tour package for a winter festival.

The first festival in January that year exceeded their expectations, with 220,000 people coming to the county whose name at the time was less than familiar.

In the following year, 500,000 people came. By the fourth festival, it had over 1 million visitors.

In 2009, photos from the festival were featured on Time Magazine.

The number of visitors grew steadily, with over 100,000 foreigners descending on the mountainous village so far.

To make the festival unique, organizers hired civilian experts and made sure that the people, not administrative officials, took the lead.

The focus shifted to promoting the local economy, and in 2006, festival gift cards were created to allow festival visitors to buy county's products with their admission tickets.

This led to new jobs for 20 million people, including senior citizens.

County officials sold about 1.1 billion won in agricultural products. The festival's economic effect is estimated at around 136.6 billion won, they say.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is not only one of Korea's most representative events, but one of the world's four major winter festivals. In 2011, foreign media have called it one of the seven wonders. In September last year, the county was named the city of world festival for under-50,000 population.

This year's festival, which opened on Jan. 4, has already drawn 800,000 people, and by the end of this weekend, the number is expected to easily surpass 1 million.

"The dream of 25,000 people has seized the attention of 7 billion people worldwide," said Chung Gap-chul, the county chief. "We will make efforts to turn the Hwacheon Suncheoneo Ice Festival into an international event by making it a comprehensive event combining culture and the arts."

The festival will continue until Jan. 26.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/yonhap-news-agency/140118/small-village-hosts-global-festival