The Hand of Harmony Festival in Pohang

Pohang's Hand of Harmony

Early morning road trip

This morning, excitement filled the air as I woke up at 4:30 AM, ready for adventure. I quickly got ready, grabbing my camera gear and snacks. After setting my Korea-specific GPS, I hit the road, my favorite tunes setting the mood. My destination? Pohang’s annual Hand of Harmony Sunrise Ceremony. However, I soon realized my 90-minute journey to Pohang would actually take 2 hours. With sunrise at Homigot Sunrise Plaza scheduled for 7:13 AM, the race against time began. I pushed on, determined to witness the breathtaking moment at one of Pohang’s most iconic events.

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The Hand of Harmony in Pohang

An Annual Sunrise Celebration

There was very little wiggle room for the usual mistakes I make when driving around South Korea. The Hand of Harmony in Pohang is not the easiest place to navigate to in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I went to bed later than I expected. And although I decided to set my alarm, I wasn’t sure I’d make the road trip in the morning.

However, my curiosity got the best of me. And as expected, I got lost a few times. The only reason I knew I was heading in the right direction was the smell of ocean air that drifted into my car through the open vents. I eventually arrived in Sunrise Plaza with about 10-15 minutes to spare.

Then waited for the light show to begin with a small group of fellow luck seekers.

New Year’s Day Celebration

Traditional Tteokguk Soup

I saw a picture of it and found out that it was made of bronze and granite in 1999. It is a symbol of “the struggle and the spirit of all Koreans to pursue a better life.” That’s it. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Korean tradition and part of an annual festival held every New Year’s Eve.

Good Luck and Prosperity

The festival includes lots of cultural entertainment and a sunrise concert. Visitors receive a free bowl of tteokguk, a traditional New Year’s Day broth soup from a huge communal soup pot. The soup consists of thinly sliced rice cakes, julienned eggs, meat, and seaweed. It is believed to grant the consumer good luck for the year as well as an additional year of life. Participants also fly kites and launch hope balloons with their wishes, hopes, and dreams attached.

The Hand of Harmony sits 20-30 feet from the shore in the shallow water. A seawall keeps the big waves from reaching the paved walkway above the shore. The waves beckon to be heard, as they break hard against the jagged rocks of the wall. A few photographers brave the chance of getting wet to capture a unique photo of the open palm.

Morning Calm

We all stood there, looking to the horizon waiting for the sun to rise. Some people shuffled from side to side in the cold morning air. While others stood close to each other trying to generate heat and share its’ rewards. I kept myself busy by alternating between my camera and my phone. I had worn gloves, but unfortunately, I couldn’t operate my phone with them on, so I occupied myself by putting them and taking them off—trying while trying to keep my fingertips warm.

And then it happened. The sun started to peek out behind a thick blanket of fog and clouds. And its’ light spread out before us. Out and over the outstretched fingers of the Hand of Harmony. Each finger, a temporary home to the seagulls that witness the same sunrise day after day without fail. They perched on the fingertips like statues as if they too, were reverent of the new day dawning. When I arrived there was only one. When I left there was one on every finger and several found shelter in its palm. The sunrise came and went, just like the crowd, which dispersed soon afterward. But they should have stayed a bit longer because the real magic came around 0745 when the sun actually burst through its cloud cover and the orange, red, pink, and yellow light cast a more vibrant backdrop to the show.

Pohang Attractions

The Pohang Lighthouse & Statues

The lighthouse is the largest lighthouse in Korea. The lighthouse was built after a Japanese ship sunk off the coast in 1907. Surprisingly, that’s not the conclusion of foreign involvement. The lighthouse was designed by a Frenchman and built by Chinese craftsmen in 1908. And although its design is European, all 6 stories are decorated with paintings of Asian plum blossoms.

The Atmosphere

The morning atmosphere is anything but festive. The morning had been eerily quiet, probably due to the early hour. However, the silence gave way to the clatter of pots and pans. Food vendors began making preparations for the influx of those people a little too lazy to arrive before dawn.

The odor of drying fish seemed stronger now. And the competition for the captivity of my senses is won over by them. I was getting hungry, but the morning’s catch was overbearing. And it was a clear signal to me that it was time to head home.

I walked around the beach to the lighthouse and the statues in the large plaza. There is a matching hand directly facing the one in the water. The palms of the hands face each other to symbolize harmony and coexistence. The right hand in the water, the left one is on land. Under it, an eternal flame said to have been lit by sunlight itself. I know this from my research because the only thing I could actually read was “do not sit…” which I gladly heeded.

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pohang-683x1024 The Hand of Harmony Festival in Pohang

This article has was originally printed in Feb- May 2012 Welcome to Europe Guide. Updated July 2015.

2 thoughts on “The Hand of Harmony Festival in Pohang

  1. New Year for me means something different every year. This year means a year to plan for our upcoming retirement, both our kids in college and a new phase of life for our family. It’s a welcome but scary phase. It’s a year of change. I try not to make resolutions, as they become forgotten…instead in general, I just want to be the best person I can be, and strive for happiness.

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