From the BK to the SK
Sometimes there is so much to write about, I don’t even know where to start, especially when I wait a week to write.

Last weekend my friends and I jumped on a train and headed to Busan, about an hour South of us by KTX, for an International Fireworks Festival. My intention was to go, watch the fireworks and try to make a midnight train home back to Daegu. I had a prior commitment early on Sunday morning that I needed to return for. Turns out, I took a train home at 11 the next morning with my two friends.

Let me just start by saying that I have been and stayed at some pretty questionable places in my life throughout my travels, and when we first arrived in Busan, remember, I wasn’t staying the night. My friends just wanted to find the first place they could to put their things down and then head to see the fireworks, so we went to the hotel directly outside of the train station. It was cheap and easy – such a fine compliment – but it was the strangest hotel I’ve ever been to. The entire time I kept thinking of the movie and the ride at Disney, “Tower or Terror.” This was some straight up tower of terror hotel. It was probably the first one built in all of Korea; actually, it was probably built before Korea even existed. But when you’re traveling, beggars can’t be choosers (no matter how many times throughout a trip my friends and I will complain that we are coming home with rabies or some other kind of disease).

We put our things down, checked around for some ghosts and then got on the train to go see the fireworks. The train station was packed, and the trains were relatively crowded, but at least I didn’t have some random stranger’s elbow lightly resting in the crook of my neck. Instead, I had my best friend Sheila’s hand resting on my shoulder like she was getting ready to give me a pep-talk.

We got off the train, and the beach where we would watch the fireworks display was PACKED. There were just people everywhere. They closed the streets so that it was only foot traffic, and people had stormed the beach like Normandy to get good seats for the show. Seriously, these people must have arrived the day before. Other people just took to literally falling to the ground and taking a seat in the middle of the streets, while crowds of people walked up and down the street before the fireworks began.

There were three or four old men sitting next to us who spoke no English, but the one closest to us was in a suit with a tie. He wasn’t just ready for the fireworks, but he was ready for three unsuspecting American girls to take a seat next to him. His face lit up, serving as a preview to how the sky would light up within just an hour. He had ample amounts of magic tricks prepared for this very moment, and he was literally pulling tricks from his sleeves. Every time I looked over, he had a new trick in the palm of his hand while his face remained bright with excitement. He taught us some Korean hand game that was a mixture of rock, paper scissor and human jenga, and it was quite fun until his knee became the game board.

A few minutes later, he quit the games and got serious. The fireworks were starting, and he needed to prepare for those, too. He pulled out the stunner shades and sat there waiting for the show to begin.

 So I haven’t really been home or seen Fourth of July Fireworks for almost 3 years now. In 2008, I was living alone out in Mass., and I was WORKING on the Fourth. I realized at that night that newspaper needs to run every day, regardless, and I was at the bottom of the Totem Pole. In 2009 I was in Beijing, China, and needless to say, Fourth of July wasn’t exactly their holiday. Finally, this year, I was on Cape Cod, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on my way home from Provincetown to file a story for work. Oh, Cape Cod.

These fireworks were mind blowing and exceeded my expectations. It was seriously as if the sky was on fire, and no one made a move to put it out; everyone just loved to watch it burn.

I have never seen any fireworks display even come close to this one. It lasted for maybe an hour or so, and it involved every end of the earth that it could. It was set above a bridge that spanned out over the water. Fire was coming from the middle of the sky, from the boats on the sea, from the birds that were flying through the air (literally, there were firework birds), from below the bridge and above the bridge – everywhere you looked. It was just one explosion of color and life after another for a straight hour.

We met up with a ton of other teachers after, and slowly but surely I found myself pushing my curfew. Next thing I knew I was walking to the subway to head to the university district to go out. Yup, I was staying.

It felt like there was some secret maestro, orchestrating perfection into each moment from somewhere behind the scenes. Everyone was having fun, everything was great, and we absolutely loved life. I couldn’t be any happier, or so I thought.

I was on my way to the bathroom when a guy stopped me and read my sweatshirt. He looked at me and asked, “You went to Penn State?”

This was the second time of the night someone spoke about Penn State. Earlier that night I was walking past a kid who said he graduated from there in 2008, and so I obviously stopped and talked to him for a second or two.

I told the guy I graduated last year, and I didn’t bother asking him what his connection was to the school. I just wanted to get to the bathroom. Mind you, there were an expected 1 million people coming to Busan throughout this weekend to see the fireworks. So the guy looks at me and says, “What’s crazier, Busan tonight or Happy Valley on a Saturday?”

He made my night. I was all the way in South Korea, and Penn State was living up to its name. It didn’t take me more than a millisecond to give him my answer, and I obviously told him Penn State on a Saturday. I’d walk away from this night and remember it for the rest of my life. Half of my Saturdays at Penn State, well, let’s say I can only assume I had a good time.

I thought about his question again on my ride home and realized I was wrong. What I should have said was neither – THON weekend in Happy Valley blows everything possible out of the water. I love Penn State football, I love tailgating from morning to night, I love Beaver Stadium and I love my school, but there is absolutely nothing that compares to THON weekend. Everything we do that weekend we do For The Kids, and there is no greater feeling in the entire world than seeing all of these kids and their smiling faces, knowing that you’re changing lives.


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